(Hinduism: Gaudiya Vaishnavism)

Baladeva Vidyabhusana is considered the founder of the Gaudiya Vaisnava school of Vedanta, acintya-bhedabheda vedanta. He is famous for his Govinda-bhasya commentary to Vedanta-sutra. Although Mahaprabhu considered Srimad-Bhagavatam, that superexcellent ripened fruit of Vedic wisdom to be the natural commentary to Vedanta-sutra, on Mahaprabhu's indirect order Sri Baladeva wrote the Govinda-bhasya in order to satisfy Sadacari Raja's assembly of brahmanas in Jaipur and to lend formal credibility to the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya.

Little is known of Baladeva's advent. The place and time of his birth, as well as his family are unknown, however it is believed by some that he was born in Balesvara, near Remunapur (Orissa) in the early 18th Century, to a vaisya farmer. During his childhood, he studied with the panditas on the bank of the Cilkahrada River. As Baladeva grew he demonstrated his natural capabilities and became well versed in Sanskrit grammar, poetry, rhetoric and logic. After he graduated from school, not wanting to be tied to his father's profession, he left home and travelled to different places of pilgrimage.

After a time he came upon the temple of the tattva-vadi followers of the Madhva sampradaya in Mysore (now Karnataka). He became fully conversant with their philosophy and conclusions (siddhanta), and after accepting the renounced order of sannyasa adopted the life of a wandering renunciate, travelling and preaching vigorously all over Bharata.

After a time he came to Sri Jagannatha Puri, and at Utkaladesa he met Radha-Damodara Deva Goswami, one of the foremost grand-disciples of Sri Rasikananda Deva. They discussed devotional topics for some time, and Radha-Damodara Maharaja related Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's teaching of Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. He urged Baladeva to read Jiva Goswami's Bhagavata-sandarbha. After days of being immersed in such nectarian topics, Baladeva was overwhelmed, his heart deeply moved. (At the same time he noted, on an intellectual level, that Jiva Goswami and Sri Madhvacarya did not significantly differ on essential points of siddhanta.) He then accepted initiation into the Radha-Krsna mantra, and began studying Jiva Goswami's Sat-sandarbha under the tutelage of his guru, Radha-Damodara Maharaja.

As with tattvavadi siddhanta, Baladeva soon became expert in Gaudiya siddhanta. In order to further this, his gurudeva instructed him to journey to Vrindavana and take shelter of the mercy of Visvanatha Cakrtavarti Thakura.

Journeying first through Navadwipa dhama, he travelled the 800-odd miles to Vrindavana by foot, where he was met by Visvanatha. Visvanatha observed in Baladeva the Vaisnava qualities of submission, modesty, learning and renunciation. Baladeva completely dedicated to the krsna-bhakti and the service of Sri Visvanatha, and the Thakura (along with another scholar, Pitambara dasa) taught Baladeva acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, the esoteric meanings of bhagavata philosophy as found in the rasa-sastras, Caitanya-caritamrta, among other things. With his mind fixed, Baladeva preached vigorously the Gaudiya Vaisnava conception of love and service of Godhead.

Around 1628 (Shaka era), in Amber (the old capital of the Rajputs of Jaipur), followers of Ramanuja attempted to cause controversy by arguing to the King there--Sadacari Raja--that since the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya had no commentary on Vedanta-sutra, and yet all others did, that Mahaprabhu's sampradaya was not valid. After the arrival of the popular Govinda deity they felt their six-generation old positions of privilege challenged by the charming deity of the Gaudiyas and his followers. Like the Vaisnavas of Vrindavana, Sri Govindadeva began to captivate the hearts and minds of the Jai Singh and his family.

The Ramanandis therefore contested the Gaudiya lineage and contended that they should not be allowed to serve Govinda and Gopinatha, and that "more qualified persons" (i.e. the Ramanujas) should. They thought that this would ensure their hegemony in the area. The King being a wise man had pored over the literatures of the four sampradayas--studying the Bhagavata Purana and its commentaries by Sridhara Swami, Sanatana Goswami, and Jiva Goswami, the Vedanta-sutra and its commentaries by Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, and Nimbarka, and Jayadeva's Gita-govinda. He also read the works of Rupa Goswami, Gopala Bhatta Goswami, and Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami--even going as far as to pen his Brahma-bodhini, a thesis advocating the unity of the Vaisnavas.

However, to the Ramanandi's dismay the King of Jaipur had already become ensnared by Govinda's charm, and a follower of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. In order to settle the controversy fairly, he discreetly sent a messenger to Visvanatha in Vrindavana, asking if there was a Gaudiya commentary on Vedanta-sutra, and if so to expedite it at once so that the learned panditas could scrutinise it.

By now Visvanatha had become old, and feeling his body weak and infirm he sent Baladeva to contest the Ramanuja panditas at the King's assembly in Golta, near present-day Jaipur. Baladeva, being expert in logic, reasoning, and scriptural conclusions, disputed their claims, arguing that Mahaprabhu had established Srimad Bhagavatam as the conclusion of all the sruti, and therefore the topmost commentary on Vedanta. The Bhagavatam itself claims this and therefore it is called bhasyanam brahma-sutranam, and the natural commentary (bhasya) on the Vedanta-sutra. This is confirmed in the Vedic literatures such as the Garuda Purana ("bhasyam brahma-sutranam vedartha-paribrmhitam"), and later by Jiva Goswami in his Sat-sandarbha. Therefore the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya saw no need for a separate commentary on Vedanta-sutra.

However the Ramanujas took this as Baladeva conceding defeat, and they shouted loud and clear "They have no commentary, they have no commentary!" Realising the delicacy of the situation, and faced with no other option, Baladeva promised to show them the "commentary" within a few days. The panditas suspected a trick, thinking that such a commentary would not exist based on Baladeva's previous arguments, but were temporarily silenced.

Feeling very perturbed, Baladeva went to the temple of Sri Govinda (Rupa Goswami's Deity), and offered his astanga-dandavats. He recounted all that had happened. That night, as he slept, Govindaji came to him in a dream and personally told him to compose a commentary: "That commentary will be personally sanctioned by me. No one will be able to find fault in it." Awakening, Baladeva became joyous, and after meditating on Govinda's lotus feet he began composition. After a few days he was ready with his commentary on Vedanta sutra: the Govinda-bhasya (Govinda's commentary).

Later in his life, Baladeva wrote an appendix to the Govinda-bhasya wherein he reveals his inspiration:

vidyaRupa bhusanam ye pradaya /
khatim nitye teno yo mamudaraha //
sri govinda-svapna-nirdistha bhasye /
radhabandhuranga sa jivat //

"May Sri Govinda be all glorious. By his mercy, he revealed this commentary to me in a dream. As such, this commentary is especially appreciated by the highly learned, and as a result of this I have been bestowed the name 'Vidyabhusana', but it is Sri Govinda who deserves all credit. That Sri Govinda, who is the most dear life and soul of Sri Radhika--may he be all-victorious."

Armed with this commentary, Baladeva went to the halls of the King. The Ramanandi panditas were stupefied by his work, and the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya was declared victorious. Everybody became blissful and happy, and the panditas bestowed the title of 'Vidyabhusana'--"one whose ornament is knowledge"--on Sri Baladeva, in honour of his scholarship and achievement. Baladeva Vidyabhusana installed the Deity of Vijaya Gopala there at Golta Mandira (the whereabouts of this Deity are at present not known), and the King then furthermore decreed that henceforth everyone should attend the arati of Govindadeva, who was ultimately the inspiration for and source of the commentary. He declared that Sri Govinda should be worshipped first, and that then and only then could the other temples perform their aratis. The King also declared Sri Govindadeva the king of Jaipur and accepted the position of minister for himself.

The Ramanujas accepted Baladeva Vidyabhusana as their acarya and asked to be his disciples. Demonstrating great humility he declined, citing that there were four sampradayas and that their Sri (Ramanuja) sampradaya was one of these, highly respectable, the foremost adherent of dasya-bhakti, and preaching servitude to God in dasya-rasa as the best religious process. Although he preached Gaudiya siddhanta he said he meant no loss of respect of esteem to the Sri sampradaya and was wary of insulting them and thereby committing a great offence.

Baladeva then returned victorious to Vrindavana. His gurudeva, the Vaisnavas and all the residents of the dhama were elated and Sri Visvanatha bestowed his blessings on his disciple. Baladeva then commenced his commentaries on Jiva Goswami's Sat-sandarbha. Around this time Visvanatha Cakrtavarti Thakura passed from their vision, but although his caused the community distress they saw Baladeva as continuing in his spirit. They accepted him as their leader.

He wrote prolifically and very nicely explains Gaudiya siddhanta. In his Siddhanta-darpana he explains the position of transcendental sound (e.g. the Omkara) to Krsna and his name, and further explains the potency of Godhead. And in his Vedanta-samantaka, he explains the relevance of sastra-pramana, in relation to pratyaksa (direct perception), anuman (inference, hypothesis, and deduction), sabda (the words of the authorities), arthapati (interpretation), anupalabdhi (negative inference), sambhava (the laws of probability) and aitihya (history). He continued this in his Prameya Ratnavali, where sloka eight reads like a Gaudiya Vaisnava declaration of faith:

sri madvhah praha visnum paratamam akhilamnaya vedyam ca cisvam /
satyam bhedam ca jivam hari carana jusas tartamyam ca tesam //
moksam visnv-anghri-labham tad-amala-bhajanam tasya hetum pramanam /
pratyaksadi trayam cety upadisati hari krsna-caitanya candra //

"Sri Madhvacarya taught that:

  1. Krsna, who is known as Hari is the Supreme Lord, the Absolute.
  2. That Supreme Lord may be known through the Vedas.
  3. The material world is real.
  4. The jivas, or souls, are different from the Supreme Lord.
  5. The jivas are by nature servants of the Supreme Lord.
  6. There are two categories of jivas: liberated and illusioned.
  7. Liberation means attaining the lotus feet of Krishna, that is, entering into an eternal relationship of service to the Supreme Lord.
  8. Pure devotional service is the cause of this relationship.
  9. The truth may be known through direct perception, inference and Vedic authority.
These very principles were taught by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu."

Baladeva also elucidated on the five divisions of reality (isvara, jiva, prakrti, kala and karma), and on Krsna's three energies, which he calls para-sakti, ksetraj├▒a-sakti, and maya-sakti.

Baladeva Vidyabhusana's writing constitute a veritable treasure trove of explanations of Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta, which he acknowledged, but reserving true honour and position for his gurudeva: In His Vedanta Samantaka, Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana offers the following prayer to the lotus feet of his gurudeva, Sri Radha-Damodara Goswami:

radhadidamodara nama vibhrata /
viprena vedantamayah syamantaka //
sri radhikayairviniveditomaya /
tasyah pramodam sa tanotu sarvada //

"Having been deputed to do so by my gurudeva, the brahmana named Sri Radha-Damodara Goswami, I have compiled this commentary on the Vedanta known as Vedanta-syamantaka for the sake of Srimati Radharani's pleasure. This commentary is a summary of the important points of Vedanta. May it be pleasing to Sri Radhika."

(from Vedanta-samantaka)

Among the books compiled by Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana are as follows:

  • Govinda-bhasya commentary on Vedanta;
  • Siddhanta-Ratna-- the "Jewel of Conclusions";
  • Sahitya-Kaumudi;
  • Vedanta Syamantaka-- a summary of acintya-bhedabheda Vedanta;
  • Prameya Ratnavali --the "Jewel of Factual Principles" listing the nine common principles of both the Madhva and Caitanyite schools;
  • Siddhanta-darpana-- a summary of Gaudiya Vaisnava principles;
  • Kavya Kaustubha --a Vaisnava anthology;
  • Aisvarya-kadambini;
  • Vyakarana Kaumudi --a book on grammar;
  • Padakaustubha-- selected prayers;
  • Commentaries on the important Upanishads, including Isopanisad and Gopala-tapani;
  • Gitabhusana-bhasya --a commentary on Bhagavad-gita;
  • Bhasya-pithaka;
  • commentaries on Gopala Campu, Krsna-bhavanamrta, Samsaya-satini, etc.;
  • Vaisnava-nandini-tika-- a commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam; and
  • commentaries on Visnu-Sahasra-nama, Tattva-sandarbha, Stavamala, Nata-candrika, Candraloka, Sahitya Kaumudi, Lahu-bhagavatamrta, Nataka-Candrika and Syamananda Sataka.
He had two disciples, Sri Uddhava dasa, and Sri Nandana Misra, and personally worshipped Sri Jaya and Sri Vijaya Govinda, (having their residence at the Gokulananda Mandira in Vrindavana). Baladeva installed some of the deities of the Radha-Syamasundara temple, and his little known samadhi mandira is situated behind the temple. He disappeared from his earthly lila in 1768 CE.

(Text based on Lives of the Vaisnava Saints and other sources. This year, June 8, 2003 is the anniversary (tirobhava) of his passing away.)