Acintya-bhedābheda-tattva is the philosophical principle regarding the inconceivable (acintya) relationship of simultaneous difference (bheda) and non-difference (abheda) existing between the inconceivable and unlimitedly powerful para-tattva, and His various potencies, as well as that which manifests from those potencies. This principle has been called acintya, inconceivable, because it is accessible only by transcendental sound vibration. It is inaccessible to logic, arguments and the jīva’s minute thinking capacity. It can be understood, however, if we accept scriptural statements endorsed by the guru-paramparā. The human intellect and power of comprehension cannot conceive of the condition of being simultaneously and equally different and non-different. Nevertheless, we certainly have to accept this principle as factual and eternal because the śāstras have described it in that way. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu expounded acintya-bhedābheda-tattva to Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya in Śrī Purī-dhāma, and in Kāśī to both Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī and the kevalādvaita-vādī Śrī Prakāśānanda Sarasvatī.
Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī has also established this acintya-bhedābheda-tattva in his Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta (2.2.186) and in Vaiṣṇava-toṣanī, and so have Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī in Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī in the Ṣaṭ-sandarbhas and Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa in Govinda-bhāṣya and Bhāṣya-pīṭhaka. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has specifically established acintya-bhedābheda-tattva in his treatise Sarva-saṁvādinī, on the foundation of evidence from Vedānta-sūtra, the Upaniṣads and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. On the basis of the verse vadanti tat tattva-vidaḥ in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.11), he has proved that the advaya-jñāna para-tattva is devoid of the three types of differences: svagat-bheda, differences within itself; sajātīya-bheda, differences from others in the same category; and vijātīya-bheda, differences from others in different categories. In this regard he has written [in Bhagavat-sandarbha 14]: “ekam eva taṁ paramaṁ tattvaṁ svābhāvikācintya-śaktyā sarvadaiva svarūpa-tad-rūpa-vaibhava-jīva-pradhāna-rūpeṇa caturdhāvatiṣṭhate, sūryāntara-maṇḍala-stha-teja iva, maṇḍala-tad-bahirgata-raśmi-tat-praticchavi-raśmyādi-rūpeṇa – The Supreme Truth (parama-tattva) is one. He is adorned with His natural, inconceivable energy by which He eternally exists in full splendour in four aspects:
- jīva and
To some degree we can use the following four examples to illustrate these four aspects of para-tattva : the effulgence situated in the interior of the sun planet, the sun globe itself, the rays emanating from the sun and its remote reflected image.”
The svarūpa of para-tattva is indeed His transcendental form, His sac-cid-ānanda vigraha. His tad-rūpa-vaibhava is His transcendental abode, name, associates and collective paraphernalia used in His pastimes. There are innumerable jīvas who are classified as either eternally liberated (nitya-mukta) or eternally conditioned (nitya-baddha). The word pradhāna refers to the unmanifest material nature and the whole gross and subtle inert creation arising from it. Now that the oneness of the eternal Supreme Truth in four manifestations has been established, a question can be raised. How can the Supreme Truth accommodate activities that are eternally opposed to each of His four aspects? The answer is that the intelligence of the jīva is distinctly limited; thus it is impossible for him to understand bhagavat-tattva – except by the mercy of the acintya-śakti of the Supreme Lord.
Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has not classified jīva and prakṛti as tattva. Rather, by establishing them as śakti, he has confirmed the non-duality of the para-tattva. He has accepted the para-tattva endowed with potency as para-brahma. If one considers para-tattva to be devoid of potency or attributes, the omnipotence and the completeness of para-tattva, who is complete in six opulences, is lost. Brahma is the Supreme Truth in whom lies the integral potency to be great and also to make others great. Since the sac-cid-ānanda para-tattva is one without a second, His śakti is also (a) aghaṭana-ghaṭana-paṭīyasī, capable of making the impossible possible, (b) composed of sac-cid-ānanda and (c) one without a second. This one parā-śakti is manifest in three forms – saṁvit, sandhinī and hlādinī. On account of the activities of this śakti, brahma is eternally established as saviśeṣa, possessed of form and attributes. The śakti of brahma exists in two ways. When the potencies of Bhagavān are situated within the vigraha of Śrī Bhagavān and are one with it, then they are manifest as potency alone without shape. When they are manifest in the form of the presiding deity of the śakti, they appear as the associates of Bhagavān and render all of their varieties of service; then they are called personified śakti.
In Gauḍīya philosophy, śakti and śaktimān together are accepted as the one undivided, non-dual truth. Only in Gauḍīya philosophy is the word acintya used to define the truth, or the divinity, of His śakti, which is beyond our material sense perception. We do not see this mentioned anywhere else. Ācārya Śaṅkara has referred to para-brahma as acintya in his explanation of Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma, and Śrīdhara Svāmī has also used the word acintya in his commentary on Viṣṇu Purāṇa. However, there is some speciality in Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī’s consideration of the word acintya. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has pointed out that the word acintya means śabda-mūlaka śrutārthāpatti jñāna-gocara, or that which can be known through the statements of the scriptures received in guru-paramparā. We have already explained this.
It is impossible for śakti and śaktimān to be either absolutely different or absolutely non-different from each other. In the Vedas we find śruti-mantras indicating difference and others indicating non-difference; both types of mantra are evident. It is the inconceivable potency (acintya-śakti ) of the one para-tattva which reconciles this simultaneous difference and non-difference. This is also impossible to fathom by human intelligence; it is understood only by taking shelter of the evidence of śāstra as it is received in paramparā. Therefore, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has accepted this acintya-bhedābheda-tattva.
Others, such as Bhāskarācārya, the followers of the Purāṇas and the devotees of Lord Śiva, have also accepted bhedābheda (difference and non-difference), but their bhedābheda is based on logic and is therefore refutable and inconsistent. There is also some bheda (disparity) practically and theoretically in the monistic theory (kevalādvaita-vāda) of the māyāvādīs. However, the testing stone of scriptural evidence shows that it is false to accept the non-existence of māyā on the pretext of the indescribable real-and-unreal advaita-vāda logic. Therefore, kevalādvaita-vāda is imaginary and contrary to śāstra. The theory of eternal difference (bheda-vāda) is also accepted in the doctrines of Gautama, Kanāda, Jaiminī, Kapila and Pātañjalī, but it is not in agreement with Vedānta.
Natural bhedābheda or dvaitādvaita is accepted even in the doctrine of Nimbāditya Ācārya, but it is also incomplete. Śrī Rāmānuja’s viśiṣṭādvaita-vāda accepts the difference between śakti and śaktimān, so Śrī Rāmānuja can be called another type of dualist (dvaita-vādī). In the purely dualistic philosophy (dvaita-vāda) of Madhvācārya, because of the acceptance of extreme bheda, there is an eternal difference between the dependent tattvas and the independent tattva, Īśvara. In this philosophy, five types of differences are eternal, real and beginningless: the difference between
- jīva and Īśvara,
- jīva and jīva,
- Īśvara and jaḍa (inert matter),
- jīva and jaḍa and
- jaḍa and jaḍa.
In addition to this, Madhvācārya accepts the eternal sac-cid-ānanda vigraha of Nartaka Gopāla. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted the Madhva sampradāya because of their strong belief in the eternal spiritual form of the Lord, and this is the fundamental foundation stone of this acintya-bhedābheda.
There are some technical differences between the philosophical opinions expounded by previous Vaiṣṇava ācāryas because of some incompleteness in them. The sampradāyas are different simply because of these technical philosophical specialities. By the power of His omniscience, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is directly the para-tattva, has compensated for the deficiencies in all these doctrines and thus completed them. He has bestowed His mercy on the world by giving the thoroughly pure, scientific and realized conception of acintya-bhedābheda, correcting and completing Śrī Madhva’s ideology of sac-cid-ānanda vigraha, Śrī Rāmānuja Ācārya’s śakti-siddhānta, Śrī Viṣṇusvāmī’s śuddhādvaita-siddhānta and tadīya sarvasvatra, and the dvaitādvaita-siddhānta of Nimbāditya Ācārya.
When we assess the statements from all limbs of the Vedas, we find that one eternal truth is to be known. This eternal truth is that the world is real; it is not a false substance imagined out of ignorance. It has arisen from the unimpeded will of the Supreme Lord. It is not manufactured by the jīva. To attribute reality to something false is called vivarta, illusion. Although the world is perishable, it is real. It has arisen from the glance, that is, simply by the will, of Īśvara, the possessor of inconceivable potency. There is no place for vivarta in this. Parameśvara’s māyā called aparā-śakti, the inferior potency, has created the inert material world full of moving and non-moving entities in accordance with His will. The principle of acintya-bhedābheda is applicable to the whole universe. Although the universe is real, its existence is not eternal. This very fact is proved by the śruti-mantra, nityo nityānām (Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.2.13, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.13).
Exclusive bheda, exclusive abheda-vāda, śuddhādvaita and viśiṣṭādvaita-vāda are all localized, or contextual, perspectives found in some areas of the śruti-śāstra, which are simultaneously opposed to the perspectives found in other areas. But the doctrine of acintya-bhedābheda is the most perfect and complete conclusion of all limbs of the Vedas. This very doctrine is the abode of the natural condition of the jīva and it is also consonant with the reasoning of śāstra. The jīva’s eternal relationship is not with this inert world. The creation is not a transformation of vastu, the para-brahma Himself; it is a transformation of the śakti of para-brahma. This gross and subtle universe is merely for the jīva’s endeavour to enjoy sense gratification.