Nimbārka Saṁpradāya | Nimbarka


1. Nimbārka Saṁpradāya

The Nimbārka Saṁpradāya (Sanskrit निम्बार्क सम्प्रदाय), also known as the Haṁsa Saṁpradāya, Kumāra Saṁpradāya, Catuḥ Sana Saṁpradāya and Sanakādi Saṁpradāya, is one of the 4 Vaiṣṇava Saṁpradāyas.

It was founded by Nimbārka (c.7th century CE), and teaches the Vaiṣṇava theology of Dvaitādvaita (dvaita-advaita) or "dualistic non-dualism."

Dvaitādvaita states that humans are both different and non-different from Īśvara, God or Supreme Being, and is also known as Bhedābheda (Bheda-Abheda) philosophy.

2. Guru Paramparā

Dualism and Non-Dualism
Difference and Non-Difference with Brahman
Nimbārka Āchārya
Unknown,3096 BCE or 7th c. or 11th c.
Commentaries on Brahma Sūtras, Bhāgavad Gītā & Upaniṣads
devotional worship of the divine couple Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa as One Supreme God

According to tradition, the Nimbārka Saṁpradāya Dvaitādvaita philosophy was revealed by Śrī Haṁsā Bhagavān to Śrī Sanakādi Bhagavān, one of the Four Kumāras; who passed it to Śrī Nārada Muni; and then on to Nimbārka.

The Four Kumāras:
1. Sanaka,
2. Sanandana,
3. Sanātana, and
4. Sanatkumāra,
- are traditionally regarded as the 4 mind-born sons of Lord Brahmā.

They were created by Brahmā in order to advance creation, but chose to undertake lifelong vows of celibacy (Brahmacarya), becoming renowned yogis, who requested from Brahmā the boon of remaining perpetually 5 years old.

Śrī Sanatkumāra Saṁhitā, a treatise on the worship of Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa, is attributed to the brothers, just like the Śrī Sanatkumāra Tantra, which is part of the Pañcarātra literature.

In the creation-myth of this universe as narrated by the Purāṇic literature, Śrī Nārada Muni is the younger brother of the Four Kumāras, who took initiation from his older brothers.

Their discussions as guru and disciple are recorded in the Upaniṣads with a famous conversation in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, and in the Śrī Nārada Purāṇa and the Pañcarātra literature.

Nārada Muni is recorded as main teacher in all 4 of the Vaiṣṇava Saṁpradāyas:

According to tradition, he initiated Śrī Nimbārkācārya into the sacred 18-syllabled Śrī Gopāla Mantra (Klīm Kṛṣṇāya Govindāya Gopījana-Vallabhāya Svāhā),

and introduced him to the philosophy of the Yugala Upāsanā, the devotional worship of the divine couple Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa:

 Rādhe Kṛṣṇa Rādhe Kṛṣṇa,
Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Rādhe Rādhe

Śyāma Rādhe Śyāma,
Śyāma Śyāma Rādhe Rādhe

According to tradition, this was the first time that Śrī Rādhe Kṛṣṇa were worshipped together by anyone on earth other than the Gopīs of Vṛndāvana.

Śrī Nārada Muni then taught Nimbārka the essence of devotional service in the Śrī Nārada Bhakti Sūtras. Śrī Nimbārkācārya already knew the Vedas, Upaniṣads and the rest of the scriptures, but perfection was found in the teachings of Śrī Nārada Muni.

3. Dating of Nimbārka

According to the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa, and his eponymous tradition, the Nimbārka Saṁpradāya, Śrī Nimbārkācārya appeared in the year 3096 BCE, when the grandson of Arjuna was on the throne.

Nimbārka is conventionally dated at the 12th or 13th century, but this dating has been questioned, suggesting that Nimbārka lived somewhat earlier than Śaṅkara, in the 6th or 7th century CE.

The latest scholarship has demonstrated with a high degree of clarity that Nimbārka and his immediate disciple Śrīnivāsa flourished well before Rāmānuja (1017–1137 CE), arguing that Śrīnivāsa was a contemporary, or just after Śaṅkarācārya (early 8th century).

4. Early years

According to tradition, Nimbārka was born in Vaidūryapattanam, the present-day Mungi Village, located 15 kilometres from Paiṭhaṇ, in East Maharashtra.

His parents were Aruṇa Ṛṣi and Jayantī Devī. Together, they migrated to Mathura and settled at what is now known as Nimbagrāma, situated between Barsānā and Govardhana.

5. Dvaita-advaita

The Nimbārka Saṁpradāya is based on Nimbārka's Dvaita-Advaita philosophy, duality and non-duality at the same time, or dualistic non-dualism.

According to Nimbārka, there are 3 categories of existence, namely:

  1. Īśvara (God, Divine Being);
  2. Cit (Jīva, the individual Soul); and
  3. Acit (lifeless matter).

Cit and Acit are different from Īśvara, in the sense that they have attributes (Guṇa) and capacities (Svabhāva), which are different from those of Īśvara.

At the same time, Cit and Acit are not different from Īśvara, because they cannot exist independently of Him.

Īśvara is independent and exists by Himself, while Cit and Acit exist in dependence upon Him.

Difference means a kind of existence which is separate but dependent (parā-tantra-satta-bhāva); while non-difference means impossibility of separate existence (svatantra-satta-bhāva).

According to Nimbārka, the relation between Brahman, on the one hand, and the Souls (Cit) and universe (Acit) on the other, is a relation of natural difference-non-difference (svābhāvikā-bhedābheda).

Nimbārka equally emphasises both difference and non-difference, as against Rāmānuja, who makes difference subordinate to non-difference, in as much as, for him Cit and Acit do not exist separately from Brahman, but are its body or attributes.

Nimbārka accepts Pariṇāma-vāda, the idea that the world is a real transformation (pariṇāma) of Brahman, to explain the cause of animate and inanimate world, which he says exist in a subtle form in the various capacities (Śaktis), which belong to Brahman in its natural condition.

Brahman is the material cause of the universe, in the sense that Brahman brings the subtle rudiments into the gross form, by manifesting these capacities.

For Nimbārka the highest object of worship is Kṛṣṇa and His consort Rādhā, attended by thousands of Gopīs, or Female Cowherds, of the celestial Vrindāvan.

Devotion, according to Nimbārka, consists in prapatti (self-surrender).

6. Brahman

The Highest Reality, according to Nimbārka, is Brahman, Kṛṣṇa or Hari, a personal God. There is nothing that is equal to Him, nothing that is superior.

He is the Lord of all, and Controller of all. He is called Brahman because of the unsurpassed greatness of His nature and qualities, because He is beyond any limit of any kind of space, time or thing.

Brahman is the sole cause of creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe. All beings arise from Him, nothing is superior to Him. The Lord alone is the first cause, the One who Manifests of all names and forms, and none else.

This Brahman is both the Upādāna (material cause) and the Nimitta (efficient cause):

It is the material cause in the sense that it enables its natural Śaktis, viz. the Cit and the Acit in their subtle forms, to be manifested in gross forms;

and it is the efficient cause in the sense that it unites the individual Souls with their respective fruits of actions and means of enjoyments.

Nimbārka discusses 2 aspects of Brahman:

  1. On one hand, Brahman is eternal and great, the greatest of the great, the highest of the high, the Creator, etc. of the Universe, high above the individual Soul, of which He is the Lord and the ruler.
  2. But, on the other aspect He is the abode of infinite beauty, bliss and tenderness, and in intimate connection with the Soul. He is the abode of supreme peace, supreme grace, and the ocean of all sweetness and charms.

Thus, Brahman possessed of attributes and adorable by all, has 4 forms or Vyūhas i.e.,

  1. Vāsudeva,
  2. Saṅkarṣaṇa,
  3. Pradyumna, and
  4. Aniruddha

- and appears under various incarnation as Matsya, Kurma etc.

7. Cit (Jīva)

The Cit or individual Soul is of the nature of knowledge (jñāna-svarūpa);

it is able to know without the help of the sense-organs and it is in this sense that words like prajñāna-ghanaḥ, svayam-jyotiḥ, jñāna-māyāḥ etc. as applied to Jīva are to be understood.

The Jīva is the Knower also; and he can be both knowledge and the possessor of knowledge at the same time, just as the Sun is both light and the source of light.

Thus the Soul, who is knowledge, and his attribute, knowledge, though they are both identical as knowledge, can be at the same time different and related as the qualified (dharmin) and the quality (dharma), just as the Sun and his light, though identical as light (taijasa), are still different from each other.

Thus there is both a difference and a non-difference between the dharmin and dharma; and the extreme similarity between them implies, not necessarily their absolute identity, but only a non-perception of their difference.

The Jīva is also Ego (ahaṁ-arthaḥ): This Ego continues to persist not only in the state of deep sleep, but also in the state of liberation. It even belongs to the Parā Brahman:

Hence it is that Kṛṣṇa refers to Himself so frequently in the first person in the Gītā, of which the chief object is thus Puruṣottama, who is omniscient and at the same time non-different from the Ego or asmad-artha.

The Jīva is also essentially active (kartr). This quality belongs to it in all its conditions, even after release. But the kartrtva is not independent. The Jīva is also Enjoyer (bhokt) essentially in all its conditions.

For his knowledge and activity, however, the Jīva depends on Hari; thus, though resembling Him in being intelligent and knower, he is at the same time distinguished from him by his dependence.

This quality of dependence or of being controlled (niyamyatva) is the very nature of Jīva even in the state of release, just as niyamyatva or the quality of being the controller, forms the eternal nature of Īśvara.

The Jīva is atomic in size; at the same time his attribute, knowledge, is omnipresent, which makes it possible that he can experience pleasure and pain in any part of the body, just as, for instance, the light of a lamp can spread far and wide and illumine objects away from the lamp.

The Jīvas are different and in different bodies, and so are infinite in number.

8. Acit (the jagat)

The Acit is of 3 different kinds: viz. Prākṛta, Aprakṛta, and Kāla.

  1. Prākṛta, or what is derived from Prakṛti, the primal matter,
  2. Aprakṛta is defined negatively as that which is not the product of Prakṛti, but its real nature is not clearly brought out.
  3. Kāla means Time.

These 3 categories in their subtle forms are as eternal as the Cit or the individual Souls.

Nimbārka does not explain what exactly the Aprakṛta is, nor does he define Kāla more precisely, beyond noticing, as pointed out above, that the Aprakṛta and the Kāla are species of the Acit.

But, Puruṣottama Ācārya of the Nimbārka School has, in his Vedānta-Ratna-Mañjūṣā, described Acit Aprakṛta as the material cause of the celestial abode of Brahman and the bodies and ornaments etc. of Brahman and his associates.

Prakṛti, or the primal matter-the stuff of the entire universe is real and eternal like the individual Souls, and like them, though eternal and unborn, has yet Brahman for its cause:

It consists of the 3 qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas, such as Prakṛti, Mahat, Ahaṁkāra etc. (just similar to 24 principles of the Sāṅkhya).

9. Bondage and Mukti (liberation)

The Jīva has his true form distorted and obscured owing to his contact with karma resulting from ignorance, which is beginningless, but which can come to an end, by the grace of God, when its true nature is fully manifested.

Ignorance is a part of God and is the basis of cosmic manifestation i.e. the arising of God with attributes.

To attain deliverance, the Jīva has to commence with a complete submission to the Paramātman, or Prapatti, whose 6 constituents are:

  1. To desire only in accordance with the desire of God (ānukūlyasya saṅkalpaḥ)
  2. Reject what is opposite to devotion (pratikūlyasya varjanam)
  3. The faith that God will surely protect me (rakṣhiṣhyatīti viśhvāsaḥ )
  4. To maintain an attitude of gratitude toward God (goptṛitve varaṇaṁ)
  5. To see everything we possess as belonging to God (ātmanikṣepaḥ), and
  6. To give up the pride of having surrendered (kārpaṇya).

God's grace extends itself to those who are possessed of these 6 constituents of Prapatti, i.e., who are Prapanna; and by that grace is generated Bhakti consisting of special love for him, which ultimately ends in the Realisation (sākṣātkāra) of the Paramātmā.

For a devotee knowledge of the following 5 things is quite necessary:

  1. the nature of the Supreme Soul,
  2. the nature of the Individual Soul,
  3. the fruit of God's grace or Mokṣa, (which is an uninterrupted realisation of the nature and attributes of Brahman, following from the absolute destruction of all action and the consequent extinction of all sentience),
  4. the feeling of enjoyment consequent on bhakti, and
  5. the nature of the obstacles in the way of the attainment of God, such as regarding the body and the mind as the Soul, depending on someone who is neither God nor the preceptor, neglecting their commands, and considering God as nothing more than an ordinary being.

10. Practices - the 5 Sādhanas

The basic practice consists of the worship of Śrī Rādhā Mādhava, with Śrī Rādhā being personified as the inseparable part of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

Nimbārka refers to 5 paths to Salvation, namely:

  1. Karma (ritual action);
  2. Vidyā (knowledge);
  3. Upāsanā or dhyāna (meditation);
  4. Prapatti (surrender to the Lord/devotion);
  5. Gurupasatti (devotion and self-surrender to God as Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa).

11. Karma (ritual action)

Performed conscientiously according to one's varṇa (caste) and āśrama (phase of life) thereby giving rise to Knowledge which is a means to Salvation.

12. Vidyā (knowledge)

Not as a subordinate factor of Karma but also not as an independent means for everyone:

Suited only for those who are inclined to spend long time in scriptural study and reflection on deeper meanings of being.

13. Upāsanā or dhyāna (meditation)

It is of 3 types:

  1. First is meditation on the Lord as one's self, i.e. meditation on the Lord as the Inner Controller of the sentient.
  2. Second is meditation on the Lord as the Inner Controller of the non-sentient.
  3. Final one is meditation on Lord Himself, as different from the sentient and non-sentient.

This is again not an independent means to Salvation for all, as only those qualified to perform the Upāsanā (with Yajñopavītam) can perform this Sādhana.

14. Prapatti (surrender to the Lord/devotion)

Devotion and Self-surrender to God as Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa.

This method of attaining Salvation, known as Prapatti Sādhana, contains elements of all the other means, and is most importantly, available to all:

Men, women, foreigners, all classes and castes (or non-castes) are permitted to seek liberation through this, the most important Sādhana.

It is referred to as Sādhana (or Aparā) Bhakti – devotion through regulations:

This in turn leads to Parā Bhakti – the highest devotion characterised by Mādhurya Rāsa – the sweet emotions of devotion experienced by those perfected in Sādhana Bhakti.

15. Gurupasatti

Devotion and Self-Surrender to Guru.
Best realised as a part in Prapatti, and not as an independent means, although it can be so.

Śrī Nimbārka made the "Bhāṣya" (commentary in which all the words of the verses are used, in contradistinction to a Ṭīkā, which is a more free commentary) of the Brahmā Sūtra on his Dvaitādvaita Vedanta (Principle of Dualism-Non-dualism) in his famous book "Vedanta Pārijāta Saurabha".

16. Literature

"To the left hand side of Goloka Bihārī is the daughter of King Vṛṣabhānu, Śrī Rādhā, who is as beautiful as the Lord and is worshipped by thousands of handmaidens. She fulfils the wishes of all. Śrī Kiśorī is eternally remembered as Śrī Ji."

- Śrī Nimbārkācārya, on the worship of the Divine Couple, in, Daśa Śloki

Śrī Nimbārkācārya wrote the following books:

  1. Vedānta Pārijāta Saurabha– Commentary on the Brahma Sutras
  2. Sadācāra Prakāśa– Commentary on the Bhagavad-Gītā
  3. Rahasya Ṣoḍaśī- Śrī Gopāla Mantra explained
  4. Prapanna Kalpa Vallī- Śrī Mukuṇḍa Mantra explained
  5. Prapatti Cintāmaṇi – On Supreme surrender
  6. Prātaḥ Smaraṇa Stotram
  7. Daśa Śloki or Kāmadhenu– Ten Verses
  8. Saviśeṣa Nirviśeṣa
  9. Śrī Kṛṣṇa Stavam