This article is about sahaja-jñāna
, or ‘innate intuition’, as a form of Brahmo and Vaiṣṇava epistemology—a foundational invention within the development of modern Hinduism. I examine its nineteenth-century intellectual history in Bengal in the works of the Vaiṣṇava theologian Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda (1838–1914) and trace it back to two of his contemporaries, Keshub Chandra Sen (1838–1884) and a senior leader of the Brahmo Samaj whom they both knew, Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905). This relatively understudied yet epistemologically significant term within modern Hinduism has its roots in the pre-colonial sahajiyā
movements and bears a conceptual resemblance to the idea of pratibhā
in ancient Indian aesthetics, philosophy, and grammar. The idea of sahaja is key among the sahajiyā Vaiṣṇavas, a so-called heterodox group that Western-educated, middle-class Bengali bhadralok
s, including Bhaktivinoda, vehemently disassociated themselves from due to the social stigma attached to its sexo-yogic practices. Furthermore, I argue that Bhaktivinoda’s concept of sahaja-jñāna departs significantly from both sahajiyā and Brahmo versions of sahaja-jñāna and represents an innovation within the ambit of Vaiṣṇava Vedanta, which accepts verbal testimony (śabda
) as the only valid form of epistemology. In documenting the intellectual history of a significant idea, I contend that the bhadralok Bengali Vaiṣṇava leaders arrogate, desexualize, and Vedānticize a term as a form of experimentation during the construction of modern Hinduism.
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