Srila Jiva Gosvami’s father, Anupama, was the brother of Srila Rupa Gosvami and Srila Sanatana Gosvami. His exalted father and uncles were employed by the Muslim ruler, Srila Sanatana Gosvami as prime minister, Srila Rupa Gosvami as the private secretary, and Sri Anupama as treasurer. All three of them met Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu when He came to Ramakeli, where they lived.
As the only son of the three brothers, Jiva received abundant affection. Srila Rupa Gosvami was always especially affectionate towards him and treated him as if he were his own son. When Jiva was still very young, Srila Rupa Gosvami took him to Mahaprabhu, who blessed him by placing His hand on his head.
During childhood, Jiva studied and soon learned all logic, Sanskrit grammar, and theistic philosophy from the books in his father’s home. Before Srila Rupa Gosvami and Anupama left household life to retire in Vrndavana, they divided all the family’s wealth and property, allocating sufficient funds for Jiva to continue his studies. All three brothers realized that he was the only son in their dynasty, so they nurtured him with great affection and ensured he had whatever material facility he required.
Jiva had a very soft nature, and as he grew up, he gradually began worshipping Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna. Making garlands for Them and offering puja to Them, he would become immersed in meditation, preferring these activities to playing with other children. When he was about fourteen years old, he went to Navadvipa. By then, Mahaprabhu had returned to the spiritual world and all the devotees of Navadvipa had left and gone elsewhere. Because Navadvipa now brought them all great sadness, Srivasa Pandita, Advaita Acarya, and everyone else had left, and Navadvipa was deserted.
A few days before Jiva’s arrival, Sri Nityananda Prabhu had arrived at Srivasangana from Khardaha. When Srila Jiva Gosvami arrived, Nityananda Prabhu was very pleased to meet him. Nityananda prabhu placed His feet on Jiva’s head and said, “I came here just to meet with you, otherwise I would have stayed in Khardaha.” He showed Jiva all the places of Mahaprabhu’s pastimes in Navadvipa, and then showed him great mercy by ordering him to go stay with Srila Rupa Gosvami and Srila Sanatana Gosvami in Vrndavana.
On the way to Vrndavana, Jiva stopped in Varanasi, where he met a disciple of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya named Madhusudana Vacaspati who was teaching Vedanta, but not the commentary of Sankaracarya, which was famous at that time. Mahaprabhu had refuted that commentary when Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya tried to teach it to Him. Madhusudana Vacaspati was a great scholar and, having studied and understood everything which Mahaprabhu had taught to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and Srila Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, was teaching it there. Jiva Gosvami went to his home and learned all bhakti-vedanta from him. He also learned Sankaracarya’s commentary, because without learning it, he would have been unable to refute it. After studying all of this and fully understanding it, he proceeded to Vrndavana. There in Vrndavana, Sanatana Gosvami placed him in the care of Rupa Gosvami, and he stayed near Rupa Gosvami’s hut at the Radha-Damodara temple.
Rupa Gosvami would read everything he was writing to Jiva Gosvami. One day while they were in the midst of reading together, an effulgent, elderly brahmana arrived there. This was most likely, judging from his age and his scholarship, Sri Vallabhacarya, who knew Rupa Gosvami from the time Mahaprabhu was in Prayaga. He was approximately the same age as Sri Advaita Acarya, so Rupa Gosvami would have been the appropriate age to have been his son. He asked, “Rupa, what are you writing these days?”
Hesitating a little, Srila Rupa Gosvami replied, “I am writing a book entitled Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.” Vallabhacarya then picked up the book and, turning the pages, said, “Very good, I will look through it and correct any errors.”
At that time Jiva Gosvami was fanning Rupa Gosvami with a leaf from the tala tree, but when he heard Vallabhacarya say this, he felt disturbed; according to him, his Gurudeva was being criticized. Later when he went to the river to fetch water, he met Vallabhacarya, who was just finishing his midday bath. Jiva Gosvami said, “Gosai, you said before that you would proofread the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu which Rupa Gosvami is writing. If you have found any errors, precisely where are they?”
Vallabhacarya replied, “How can you understand, child? Have you studied Sanskrit grammar?”
“Yes, a little.”
“Then what could you possibly understand?”
“Still, please just show me any errors you have detected.” When Vallabhacarya showed him an apparent error, a fierce debate commenced between them. Eventually Jiva Gosvami established the point so convincingly that Vallabhacarya could neither refute it nor give any answer.
When Vallabhacarya returned to the Rupa Gosvami’s hut, he asked, “Who was that boy who was fanning you? He is very intelligent and extremely learned in the scriptures.”
Very humbly and with folded hands Rupa Gosvami replied, “He is the son of my younger brother and is also my disciple. He does not know how to behave.”
“No, he is a genius, and in the future he will be very famous.”
Soon afterwards, Vallabhacarya left. When Jiva Gosvami arrived with the water, Srila Rupa Gosvami said to him, “You are so intolerant that you quarrel with an elderly, scholarly brahmana who kindly proofread something for my own good? Your behavior is unacceptable; leave now.”
Being obliged to obey his guru, Jiva Gosvami left Vrndavana. He went to the village of Bhayagaon to live in a cave infested with crocodiles. There, for some days, he remained in the cave doing bhajana and crying, feeling bereft of his guru’s affection. He stopped eating and taking water, and within a short time he became emaciated. After some time, Sanatana Gosvami happened to visit that village as he was wandering around Vraja. The local people said to him, “Baba, we always considered you to be a great bhajananandi (one who is absorbed in bhajana), but a young boy who is even more of a bhajananandi than you has come to our village. Day and night he calls out the names of Radha-Krsna and weeps. We take him food but he refuses it, and he never sleeps either. Day and night he remains immersed in bhajana; we have never seen anything like it.”
Srila Sanatana Gosvami could understand that this was Jiva, and immediately went to him. Reunited, they both wept. Sanatana Gosvami then took him back to Vrndavana, where he said to Rupa Gosvami, “The duty of Vaisnavas is to be compassionate to others, yet you renounced this young disciple of yours who is adorned with so many extraordinary qualities. You should be merciful to Jiva, but instead you banished him. This was a mistake and you should correct it. I am ordering you to quickly call him back.”
Hearing this, Rupa Gosvami began crying for Jiva, whom he loved so much. When Sanatana Gosvami brought Jiva there and placed him in the lap of Rupa Gosvami, both guru and disciple wept. Rupa Gosvami arranged for Jiva to be treated by the best doctors from Mathura, and gradually Jiva became strong again. From then on, their former practice resumed with Rupa Gosvami giving whatever he wrote to Jiva to proofread.
Later, Srila Jiva Gosvami expanded upon and enhanced the writing of other acaryas. One such acarya, Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, had heard hari-katha directly from Srila Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, who he considered to be his siksa-gurus. While studying the writings of ancient Vaisnava acaryas such as Madhva and Ramanuja, Gopala Bhatta Gosvami selected different points in relation to sambandha (establishing one’s relationship with Krsna), abhidheya (acting in the dealings of that relationship), and prayojana (achieving life’s ultimate goal), and compiled everything in a notebook.
Srila Jiva Gosvami learned all of this tattva from Gopala Bhatta Gosvami. Then, he took the volume which contained all the information on sambandha and enlarged it. He also took from the conceptions given in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Ujjvala-nilamani, Brhad-bhagavatamrta, and the other books composed by Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, and composed the first sandarbha.
The word sandarbha means ‘a chest of valuable jewels.’ Of the Six Sandarbhas, the first four – Tattva-sandarbha, Bhagavat-sandarbha, Paramatma-sandarbha, and Krsna-sandarbha – all expound sambandha-jnana. They include knowledge of the jiva, the illusory energy, and the objective of the jiva; all of this was explained in the first four sandarbhas.
In the Tattva-sandarbha, the conception of pramana (the body of evidence) and prameya (evidence) is given. What is the meaning of pramana? In any issue, whose words will we accept as authoritative? Suppose a young boy reports that a large fire has ravaged a holy place and everything has been burned. An elderly gentleman, however, reports that a small fire started in a tea shop there, but was easily contained. From these conflicting stories, whose words will we accept as authoritative? Certainly, the man’s words are more authoritative because he is older and more mature than the boy.
This conception of pramana relates to many things. Different people may assert their beliefs that this world is real, their status as human beings or brahmanas is real, or that they are masters of their property. All this false identification and proprietorship causes so much fighting and quarreling. Another man will say, “These things are all temporary, so do not bother fighting over them. Instead, do something for your soul and for the Supreme Personality of Godhead; they are permanent.” Which of these two opinions will we accept? Analyzing the relationships between the Supreme Lord, the jiva, and material existence, Srila Jiva Gosvami explained where we should place our faith. He wrote that the Vedas are the sole authority, and that any other, so-called authority lacks credibility. That which we perceive with our limited senses and mind may be defective, but the words of the Vedas cannot be so.
In his Bhagavat-sandarbha, Srila Jiva Gosvami writes that everything we see has the same source. The Absolute Truth is one, and He is naturally endowed with inconceivable potency. By the power of this potency, He exists within four forms: svarupa (His original form), tad-rupa-vaibhava (all incarnations, beginning with Baladeva Prabhu), jiva (the living entity), and pradhana (the illusory energy). He is like the sun which also exists in four forms: its original form, the sun disc, its rays, and its reflected light which is compared to maya.
Jiva Gosvami took parts from the book Brahma-sandarbha and wrote his own Bhagavat-sandarbha, in which he analyzes brahma-tattva (the established truth about the Supreme Spirit Whole) and refutes the opinions of Sankaracarya. The jiva is not brahma (an impersonal God). If brahma is the Absolute Truth, which is full in knowledge as some say, then how did it separate into billions of living entities and become bound within material existence? Sankaracarya states that it was covered over by maya, but then where did this separate entity he calls maya come from? If there is no separate entity known as maya and all is the one brahma, where could this other object known as ignorance have come from? Refuting all of Sankaracarya’s concepts, Srila Jiva Gosvami proved that Krsna is Parabrahma, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the source of brahma.
He also analyzed paramatma-tattva, and in the Krsna-sandarbha he explained how Krsna alone is the original Personality of Godhead. He explained how Krsna is all-powerful (sarva-saktiman), how He is an ocean of rasa, how from Him the jivas and all else emanate, and how the jivas can achieve His eternal association. He refuted the concept that Krsna is an incarnation of Narayana. Using evidence from the Vedas, Upanisads, and Puranas, he established that Krsna is the original Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that all other incarnations are His plenary or partial expansions. On the basis of scriptural evidence, he reinforced Mahaprabhu’s conception, which had been established in the literatures of Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami. In doing so, he established our sampradaya upon a firm philosophical foundation. He protected the flowing river of rasa by placing large rocks of siddhanta on both its banks; in that way no contaminated water of misconceptions could ever enter it.
In his Bhakti-sandarbha, he explained many subtle aspects of bhakti. He delineated the sixty-four types of bhakti, and he expertly explained guru-tattva. He also described guru-padasraya, the process of taking exclusive shelter of the guru, how it should be done, what are its rules and regulations, and so on. If the guru carefully evaluates the prospective disciple and the disciple carefully considers the guru, then a circumstance will never arise where the disciple will have to abandon his guru. He taught that one should not accept a guru whimsically; one should accept a guru in whom he will never lose faith, otherwise there will be a problem. One should make sure that he only accepts a sad-guru, who is detached from sense enjoyment, who is conversant with all tattva and siddhanta, who is rasika, who is spiritually realized, and who is affectionate towards him. One should examine the guru carefully, even if this process takes as long as a year.
Srila Jiva Gosvami also explained that all bhakti is not the same, just as all varieties of water are not one and the same – there is clean water, purified water, contaminated water, sewage water, and so forth. Jiva Gosvami examined all these issues in depth in his sandarbhas, which one must read in order to understand the true nature of bhakti. Thus, by regularly hearing the knowledge delineated in these books and by associating with advanced Vaisnavas, one’s bhakti will gradually become uttama-bhakti. Srila Jiva Gosvami described at length the five types of prema (santa (neutrality), dasya (servitorship), sakhya (friendship), vatsalya (parental love), and madhurya (amorous love)), especially emphasizing gopi-prema and explaining the sadhana for achieving it.
Much of this came in his Gopala-campu, which is a very philosophical book. Srila Jiva Gosvami wrote that book in Goloka Vrndavana and then gave it to this world. He composed so many literatures that we could spend this entire birth immersed in reading them. Moreover, in practicing the sadhana prescribed by them, who knows how many lives we could spend? If we endeavor to enter into these books, and if we examine both the personal conduct and conceptions of Jiva Gosvami and try to personally follow them, our spiritual lives will certainly be successful. May Srila Jiva Gosvami be merciful upon us so we can learn all the instructions he gave, in order to perform bhajana purely.