This booklet introduces the reader to the Bhagavat, the jewel of India’s spiritual and literary heritage. Compiled by the sage Vyas in 3,000 BC, the Bhagavat presents the summit of devotional perfection and contains the essence of all Eastern thought. We hope that our readers will enjoy this limited collector’s edition, a tribute to Bhakti Vinod Thakur on the 147th anniversary of his birth.
The Bhagavat, Its Philosophy, Its Ethics, and Its Theology was a lecture originally delivered by Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur, the nineteenth century founder of the Krishna consciousness movement, at Dinajpur, Bangladesh, in 1869.
पिबत भागवतं रसमालयं
मुहुरहो रसिका भुवि भावुकाः
nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam
pibata bhagavatam rasam alayam
muhur aho rasika bhuvi bhavukah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 1.1.3)
O ye who are deeply merged in the knowledge of the love of God and also in deep thought about it, constantly drink, even after your emancipation, the most tasteful juice of Srimad Bhagavatam, come on earth through Sri Sukadev Goswami’s mouth carrying the liquid nectar out of the fallen and, as such, very ripe fruit of the Vedic tree, which supplies all with their desired objects.
We love to read a book which we have never read before. We are anxious to gather whatever information is contained in it, and with such acquirement, our curiosity stops. This mode of study prevails amongst a great number of readers, who are great men in their own estimation as well as in the estimation of those who are of their own stamp. In fact, most readers are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study. The student is to read facts with a view to create and not with the object of fruitless retention. Students, like satellites, should reflect whatever light they receive from authors and not imprison facts and thoughts just as the magistrates imprison convicts in the jail. Thought is progressive. The author’s thought must have progress in the reader in the shape of correction or development. He is the best critic who can show the further development of an old thought, but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of nature. “Begin anew”, says the critic, “because the old masonry does not answer at present. Let the old author be buried because his time is gone.” These are shallow expressions. Progress certainly is the law of nature, and there must be corrections and developments with the progress of time. But progress means going further or rising higher. Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race, another critic of his stamp will cry out: “Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!” In this way our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two greatest enemies of progress. We must shun them.
The true critic, on the other hand, advises us to preserve what we have already obtained, and to adjust our race from that point where we have arrived in the heat of our progress. He will never advise us to go back to the point whence we started, as he fully knows that in that case there will be a fruitless loss of our valuable time and labour. He will direct the adjustment of the angle of the race at the point where we are. This is also the characteristic of the useful student. He will read an old author and will find out his exact position in the progress of thought. He will never propose to burn the book on the ground that it contains thoughts which are useless. No thought is useless. Thoughts are means by which we attain our objects. The reader who denounces a bad thought does not know that a bad road is even capable of improvement and conversion into a good one. One thought is a road leading to another. Thus the reader will find that one thought which is the object today will be the means of a further object tomorrow. Thoughts will necessarily continue to be an endless series of means and objects in the progress of humanity. The great reformers will always assert that they have come out not to destroy the old law but to fulfill it. Valmiki, Vyas, Plato1, Jesus2, Mohammed, Confucius, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu assert the fact either expressly or by their conduct.
The Bhagavat, like all religious works, philosophical performances, and writings of great men, has suffered from the imprudent conduct of useless readers and stupid critics. The former have done so much injury to the work that they have surpassed the latter in their evil consequence. Men of brilliant thoughts have passed by the work in quest of truth and philosophy, but the prejudice which they imbibed from its useless readers and their conduct prevented them from making a candid investigation. Not to say of other people, the great genius of Raja Ram Mohan Ray, the founder of the sect of Brahmoism, did not think it worth his while to study this ornament of the religious library. He crossed the gate of the Vedanta, as set up by the mayavad construction of Sankar Acharya, the chosen enemy of the Jains, and preferred to chalk his way out to the unitarian form of the Christian faith, converted into an Indian appearance.
Raja Ram Mohan Ray was an able man. He could not be satisfied with the theory of illusion contained in the mayavad philosophy of Sankar. His heart was full of love for nature. He saw through the eye of his mind that he could not believe in his identity with God. He ran out from the bounds of Sankar to those of the Koran. There even he was not satisfied. He then studied the pre-eminently beautiful precepts and history of Jesus, first in the English translations and at last in the original Greek, and took shelter under the holy banners of the Jewish reformer. But Ram Mohan Ray was also a patriot. He wanted to reform his country in the same way as he reformed himself. He knew it fully that truth does not belong exclusively to any individual man or to any nation or particular race. It belongs to God, and man, whether in the poles or on the equator, has a right to claim it as the property of his Father. On these grounds he claimed the truths inculcated by the Western saviour as also the property of himself and his countrymen, and thus he established the samaj of the Brahmos independently of what was in his own country in the beautiful Bhagavat.3 His noble deeds will certainly procure him a high position in the history of reformers. But then, to speak the truth, he would have done more if he had commenced his work of reformation from the point where the last reformer in India left it. It is not our business to go further on this subject. Suffice it to say that the Bhagavat did not attract the genius of Ram Mohan Ray. His thought, mighty though it was, unfortunately branched like the Ranigunj line of the parent railway from the barren station of Sankar Acharya and did not attempt for an extension from the terminus station of the great Bhagavat expounder of Nadia. We do not doubt that the progress of time will correct the error, and by a further extension the branch line will lose itself somewhere in the main line of progress. We expect such attempts in abler reformer of the followers of Ram Mohan Ray.
The Bhagavat has suffered alike from shallow critics both Indian and foreign. That book has been accursed and denounced by a great number of our young countrymen, who have scarcely read its contents and pondered over the philosophy on which it is founded. It is owing mostly to their imbibing an unfounded prejudice against it when they were in school. The Bhagavat, as a matter of course, has been held in derision by those teachers who are generally of an inferior mind and intellect. This prejudice is not easily shaken off when the student grows up unless he candidly studies the book and ruminates on the doctrines of Vaisnavism. We are ourselves witnesses of the fact. When we were in college, reading the philosophical works of the West and exchanging thought with the thinkers of the day, we had contracted a hatred towards the Bhagavat. That great work looked like a repository of wicked and stupid ideas, scarcely adapted to the nineteenth century, and we hated to hear any arguments in its favor. With us then, a volume of Channing, Parker, Emerson, or Newman had more weight than the whole lot of the Vaisnava works. Greedily, we poured over the various commentaries of the Holy Bible and of the labours of the Tattva Bodhini Sabha containing extracts from the Upanisads and the Vedanta, but no work of the Vaisnavas had any favor with us. But when we advanced in age and our religious sentiment received development, we turned out in a manner unitarian in our belief and prayed as Jesus prayed in the garden. Accidentally, we fell in with a work about the great Chaitanya, and on reading it with some attention in order to settle the historical position of that mighty genius of Nadia, we had the opportunity of gathering His explanations of the Bhagavat given to the wrangling Vedantists of the Benares school. The accidental study created in us a love for all of the works which we find about our Eastern saviour. We gathered with difficulties the famous kadachas in Sanskrit, written by the disciples of Chaitanya. The explanations that we got of the Bhagavat from these sources were of such a charming character that we procured a copy of the Bhagavat complete and studied its texts (difficult of course to those who are not trained up in philosophical thoughts) with the assistance of the famous commentaries of Sridhar Swami. From such study it is that we have at last gathered the real doctrines of the Vaisnavas. Oh! What a trouble to get rid of prejudices gathered in unripe years!
As far as we can understand, no enemy of Vaisnavism will find any beauty in the Bhagavat. The true critic is a generous judge, void of prejudices and party spirit. One who is at heart the follower of Mohammed will certainly find the doctrines of the New Testament to be a forgery by the fallen angel. A Trinitarian Christian, on the other hand, will denounce the precepts of Mohammed as those of an ambitious reformer. The reason simply is that the critic should be of the same disposition of mind as that of the author, whose merits he is required to judge. Thoughts have different ways. One, who is trained up in the thoughts of the Unitarian Society or of the Vedanta of the Benares school will scarcely find piety in the faith of Vaisnavas. An ignorant Vaisnava, on the other hand, whose business it is to beg from door to door in the name of Nityananda will find no piety in a Christian. This is because the Vaisnava does not think in the way in which the Christian thinks of his own religion. It may be that both the Christian and the Vaisnava will utter the same sentiment, but they will never stop their fight with each other only because they have arrived at their common conclusion by different ways of thought. Thus a great deal of ungenerousness enters into the arguments of the pious Christians when they pass their imperfect opinion on the religion of the Vaisnavas.
Subjects of philosophy and theology are like the peaks of large, towering, and inaccessible mountains standing in the midst of our planet inviting attention and investigation. Thinkers and men of deep speculation take their observations through the instruments of reason and consciousness. But they take different points when they carry on their work. These points are positions chalked out by the circumstances of their social and philosophical life, different as they are in the different parts of the world. Plato looked at the peak of the spiritual question from the West, and Vyas made the observation from the East; so Confucius did it from further East, and Schlegel, Spinoza, Kant, and Goethe from further West. These observations were made at different times and by different means, but the conclusion is all the same in as much as the object of observation was one and the same. They all hunted after the Great Spirit, the unconditioned Soul of the universe. They could not but get an insight into it. Their words and expressions are different, but their import is the same. They tried to find out the absolute religion, and their labours were crowned with success, for God gives all that He has to His children if they want to have it. It requires a candid, generous, pious, and holy heart to feel the beauties of their conclusions.
Party spirit—that great enemy of truth—will always baffle the attempt of the enquirer, who tries to gather truth from religious work of his own nation and will make him believe that absolute truth is nowhere except in his old religious book. What better example could be adduced than the fact that the great philosopher of Benares will find no truth in the universal brotherhood of man and the common fatherhood of God? The philosopher, thinking in his own way of thought, can never see the beauty of the Christian faith. The way in which Christ thought of his own Father was love absolute, and so long as the philosopher will not adopt that way of thinking, he will ever remain deprived of the absolute faith preached by the Western saviour. In a similar manner, the Christian needs to adopt the way of thought which the Vedantist pursued before he can love the conclusions of the philosopher. The critic, therefore, should have a comprehensive, good, generous, candid, impartial, and sympathetic soul.
“What sort of a thing is the Bhagavat?”, asks the European gentleman newly arrived in India. His companion tells him with a serene look that the Bhagavat is a book which his Oriya bearer daily reads in the evening to a number of hearers. It contains a jargon of unintelligible and savage literature of those men who paint their noses with some sort of earth or sandal and wear beads all over their bodies in order to procure salvation for themselves. Another of his companions, who has traveled a little in the interior, would immediately contradict him and say that the Bhagavat is a Sanskrit work claimed by a sect of men, the Goswamis, who give mantras, like the Popes of Italy, to the common people of Bengal and pardon their sins on payment of gold enough to defray their social expenses. A third gentleman will repeat a third explanation. A young Bengali, chained up in English thoughts and ideas and wholly ignorant of the pre-Mohammedan history of his own country, will add one more explanation by saying that the Bhagavat is a book containing an account of the life of Krishna, who was an ambitious and an immoral man! This is all that he could gather from his grandmother while yet he did not go to school! Thus the great Bhagavat ever remains unknown to the foreigners like the elephant of the six blind men who caught hold of the several parts of the body of the beast!4 But Truth is eternal and is never injured but for a while by ignorance.
The Bhagavat itself tells us what it is:
निगमकल्पतरोर्गलितं फलं शुकमुखादमृतद्रवसंयुतम् ।
पिबत भागवतं रसमालयं मुहुरहो रसिका भुवि भावुकाः ॥
nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam
suka-mukhad amrta-drava samyutam
pibata bhagavatam rasam alayam
muhur aho rasika bhuvi bhavukah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 1.1.3)
“It is the fruit of the tree of thought (Vedas) mixed with the nectar of the speech of Sukadev5. It is the Temple of spiritual love! O men of piety! Drink deep this nectar of Bhagavat repeatedly till you are taken from this mortal frame.”
The Garuda-purana and the Bhagavat say again:
grantho ’stadasa-sahasrah srimad bhagavatabhidhah
सर्व्ववेदेतिहासानां सारं सारं समुद्धृतम् ।
sarva-vedetihasanam saram saram samuddhrtam
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 1.3.41)
सर्व्ववेदान्तसारं हि श्रीभागवतमिष्यते ।
तद्रसामृततृप्तस्य नान्यत्र स्याद्रतिः क्वचित् ॥
sarva-vedanta-saram hi sri-bhagavatam isyate
tad-rasamrta-trptasya nanyatra syad ratih kvachit
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 12.13.15)
“The Bhagavat is composed of 18,000 slokas. It contains the best parts of the Vedas and the Vedanta. Whoever has tasted its sweet nectar will never like to read any other religious book.”
Every thoughtful reader will certainly repeat this eulogy. The Bhagavat is pre-eminently the book in India. Once you enter into it, you are transplanted, as it were, into the spiritual world where gross matter has no existence. The true follower of the Bhagavat is a spiritual man who has already cut his temporary connection with phenomenal nature and has made himself the inhabitant of that region where God eternally exists and loves. This mighty work is founded upon inspiration, and its superstructure is based upon reflection. To the common reader, it has no charm and is full of difficulty. We are, therefore, obliged to study it deeply through the assistance of such great commentators as Sridhar Swami and the divine Chaitanya and His contemporary followers.
Now the great preacher of Nadia, who has been Deified by His talented followers, tells us that the Bhagavat is founded upon the four slokas which Vyas received from Narad, the most learned of the created beings. He tells us further that Brahma pierced through the whole universe of matter for years and years in quest of the final cause of the world, but when he failed to find it abroad, he looked into the construction of his own spiritual nature, and there he heard the Universal Spirit speaking unto him the following words:
ज्ञानं परमगुह्यं मे यद्विज्ञानसमन्वितम् ।
सरहस्यं तदङ्गञ्च गृहाण गदितं मया ॥
यावानहं यथाभावो यद्रूपगुणकर्म्मकः ।
तथैव तत्त्वविज्ञानमस्तु ते मदनुग्रहात् ॥
अहमेवासमेवाग्रे नान्यद्यत्सदसत्परम् ।
पश्चादहं यदेतच्च योऽवशिष्येत सोऽस्म्यहम् ॥
ऋतेऽर्थं यत्प्रतीयेत न प्रतीयेत चात्मनि ।
तद्विद्यादात्मनो मायां यथाभासो यथा तमः
jnanam parama-guhyam me yad vijnana-samanvitam
sarahasyam tad-angan cha grhana gaditam maya
yavan aham yatha-bhavo yad-rupa-guna-karmakah
tathaiva tattva-vijnanam astu te mad-anugrahat
aham evasam evagre nanyad yat sad-asat param
paschad aham yad etach cha yo ’vasisyeta so ’smy aham
rte ’rtham yat pratiyeta na pratiyeta chatmani
tad vidyad atmano mayam yathabhaso yatha tamah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 2.9.30–34)
“Take, O Brahma! I am giving you the knowledge of My own self and of My relations and phases which is in itself difficult of access. You are a created being, so it is not easy for you to accept what I give you, but then I kindly give you the power to accept, so you are at liberty to understand My essence, My ideas, My form, My property, and My action together with their various relations with imperfect knowledge. I was in the beginning before all spiritual and temporal things were created, and after they have been created, I am in them all in the shape of their existence and truthfulness, and when they will be all gone, I shall remain full as I was and as I am. Whatever appears to be true without being a real fact itself, and whatever is not perceived though it is true in itself are subjects of My illusory energy of creation, such as, light and darkness in the material world.”6
It is difficult to explain the above in a short compass. You must read the whole Bhagavat for its explanation. When the great Vyas had effected the arrangements of the Vedas and the Upanisads, the completion of the eighteen Puranas with facts gathered from the recorded and unrecorded tradition of ages, and the composition of the Vedanta and the large Mahabharata, an epic poem of great celebrity, he began to ruminate over his own theories and precepts and found like Fauste of Goethe that he had up to that time gathered no real truth. He fell back into his own self and reached his own spiritual nature, and then it was that the above truth was communicated to him for his own good and the good of the world.
The sage immediately perceived that his former works required supercession in as much as they did not contain the whole truth and rather nothing but obscuration of the truth. In his new idea he got the development of his former idea of religion. He commenced revelation of the Bhagavat in pursuance of this change. From this fact our readers are expected to find out the position which the Bhagavat enjoys in the library of Hindu theological works.
The whole of this incomparable work teaches us, according to our great Chaitanya, the three great truths which compose the absolute religion of man. Our Nadia preacher has styled them as: (a) sambandha, i.e., the relation between the Creator and the created, (b) abhidheya, i.e., the duty of man to God, and (c) prayojan, i.e., the prospects of humanity. In these three words is summed up the whole ocean of human knowledge as far as it has been explored up to this era of human progress. These are the cardinal points of religion, and the whole Bhagavat is, as we are taught by Chaitanya, an explanation both by precepts and examples, of these three great points.
The first cardinal point deals with establishment of the knowledge of the relation that exists between the Creator and His creation, which is not perceived by the conditioned souls as they are under the grasp of maya, the enveloping energy of the Creator.
In all of its twelve skandhas or divisions, the Bhagavat teaches us that there is only one God without a second, who was full in Himself and is and will remain the same. Time and space, which prescribe conditions to created objects, are much below His supreme spiritual nature, which is unconditioned and absolute. Created objects are subject to the influence of time and space, which form the chief ingredients of that principle in creation which passes by the name of maya.
Maya is a thing which is not easily understood by us who are subject to it, but God explains, as much as we can understand in our present constitution, this principle through our spiritual perception. The hasty critic starts like an unbroken horse at the name of maya and denounces it as a theory identical with that of Bishop Berkeley. “Be patient in your inquiry” is our immediate reply to him. In the mind of God there were ideas of all that we perceive in eternal existence with Him, or else God loses the epithet of omniscient so learnedly applied to Him. The imperfect part of nature implying want or non-existence of substance proceeded also from certain of those ideas, and what else, excepting a principle of maya eternally existing in God subject to His omnipotence, could have a hand in the creation of the world as it is? This is styled the maya-sakti of the omnipresent God. Cavil as much as you can. This is a truth in relation to the created universe.
This maya intervenes between us and God as long as we are not spiritual, and when we are able to break off her bonds, we, even in this mortal frame, learn to commune in our spiritual nature with the unconditioned and Absolute. No, maya does not mean a false thing only, but it means concealment of eternal truth as well. The creation is not maya itself but is subject to that principle. Certainly the theory is idealistic, but it has been degraded into foolishness by wrong explanations. The materialist laughs at the ideal theory saying how could this body, water, air, and earth be mere ideas without entity, and he laughs rightly when he takes Sankar Acharya’s book in his hand as the butt end of his ridicule.7
The true idealist must be a dualist also. He must believe all that he perceives as nature is created by God full of spiritual essence and relations, but he must not believe that the outward appearance is the truth.
The Bhagavat teaches that all that we healthily perceive is true, but its material appearance is transient and illusory. The scandal of the ideal theory consists in its tendency to falsify nature, but the theory, as explained in the Bhagavat, makes nature true, if not eternally true as God and His ideas. What harm can there be if man believes in nature as spiritually true and that the physical relations and phases of society are purely spiritual?
No, it is not merely changing a name, but it is a change in nature also. Nature is eternally spiritual, but the intervention of maya makes her gross and material. Man in his progress in religion attempts to shake off this gross idea as childish and foolish in its nature, and by means of subduing the intervening principle of maya, lives in continual union with God in his spiritual nature. The success attained in shaking off this bond is salvation of the human nature. The man who has got salvation will freely tell his brother that, “If you want to see God, see me, and if you want to be one with God, you must follow me.”
The Bhagavat teaches us this relation between man and God, and we must all attain this knowledge. This sublime truth is the point where the materialist and the idealist must meet like brothers of the same school, and this is the point to which all philosophy tends.
This is called sambandha-jnan of the Bhagavat or, in other words, the knowledge of relations between the conditioned and the Absolute.
We must now attempt to explain the second great principle inculcated by the Bhagavat, i.e., the principle of duty. Man must spiritually worship his God. There are three ways in which the Creator is worshipped by the created.
वदन्ति तत्तत्त्वविदस्तत्त्वं यज्ज्ञानमद्वयम् ।
ब्रह्मेति परमात्मेति भगवानिति शब्द्यते ॥
vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 1.2.11)
All theologians agree in maintaining that there is only one God without a second, but they disagree in giving a name to that God owing to the different modes of worship which they adopt according to the constitution of their mind. Some call Him by the name of Brahma, some by the name of Paramatma, and others by the name of Bhagavan. Those who worship God as infinitely great in the principle of admiration call him by the name of Brahma. This mode is called jnan or knowledge. Those who worship God as the Universal Soul in the principle of spiritual union with Him give Him the name of Paramatma. This is yoga. Those who worship God as all-in-all with all their heart, body, and strength style Him as Bhagavan. This last principle is bhakti.
The book that prescribes the relation and worship of Bhagavan procures for itself the name of Bhagavat, and the worshipper is also called by the same name.8
Such is the Bhagavat which is decidedly the book for all classes of theists. If we worship God spiritually as all-in-all with our heart, mind, body, and strength, we are called Bhagavatas, and we lead a life of spiritualism, which neither the worshipper of Brahma nor the yogi uniting his soul with Paramatma, the Universal Soul, can obtain.
The superiority of the Bhagavat consists in the uniting of all sorts of theistic worship into one excellent principle in human nature, which passes by the name of bhakti. This word has no equivalent in the English language. Piety, devotion, resignation, and spiritual love, unalloyed with any sort of petition except in the way of repentance, compose the highest principle of bhakti. The Bhagavat tells us to worship God in that great and invaluable principle, which is infinitely superior to human knowledge and the principle of yoga.
Our short compass will not admit of an explanation of the principle of bhakti beautifully rising from its first stage of application in the form of Brahmic worship in the shape of admiration which is styled the santa-rasa, to the fifth or the highest stage of absolute union in love with God, sweetly styled the madhura-rasa of prema-bhakti. A full explanation will take a big volume which is not our object here to compose. Suffice it to say that the principle of bhakti passes five distinct stages in the course of its development into its highest and purest form.9 Then again when it reaches the last form, it is susceptible of further progress from the stage of prema (love) to that of mahabhava, which is in fact a complete transition into the spiritual universe where God alone is the bridegroom of our souls in the purest state.
The voluminous Bhagavat is nothing more than a full illustration of this principle of continual development and progress of the soul from gross matter to the all-perfect Universal Spirit who is distinguished as personal, eternal, absolutely free, all-powerful, and all-intelligent. There is nothing gross or material in this process. The whole affair is spiritual. In order to impress this spiritual picture upon the student who attempts to learn it, comparisons have been made with the material world, which cannot but convince the ignorant and the novice or unpracticed in this process. Material examples are absolutely necessary for the explanation of spiritual ideas. The Bhagavat believes that the spirit of nature is the truth in nature and is the only practical part of it.
The phenomenal appearance of nature is truly theoretical, although it has had the greatest claim upon our belief from the days of our infancy. The outward appearance of nature is nothing more than a sure index of its spiritual phase. Comparisons are therefore necessary. Nature, as it is before our eyes, must explain the spirit, or else the truth will ever remain concealed, and man will never rise from his boyhood, though his whiskers and beard grow white as the snows of the Himalayas. The whole intellectual and moral philosophy is explained by matter itself. Emerson beautifully shows how all the words in moral philosophy originally came from the names of material objects. The words heart, head, spirit, thought, courage, and bravery were originally the common names of some corresponding objects in the material world.
All spiritual ideas are similarly pictures from the material world, because matter is the dictionary of spirit, and material pictures are but the shadows of the spiritual affairs which our material eye carries back to our spiritual perception. God in His infinite goodness and kindness has established this unfailing connection between the truth and the shadow in order to impress upon us. The clock explains the time, the alphabet points to the gathered store of knowledge, the beautiful song of a harmonium gives the idea of eternal harmony in the spirit-world, today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow thrust into us the ungrasped idea of eternity, and similarly, material pictures impress upon our spiritual nature the truly spiritual idea of religion.
It is on these reasonable grounds that Vyas adopted the mode of explaining our spiritual worship with some sorts of material phenomena, which correspond with the spiritual truth. Our object is not to go into details. So we are unable to quote some of the illustrations within the short compass of this lecture.
We have also the practical part of the question in the eleventh book of the Bhagavat. All of the modes by which a man can train himself up to prema-bhakti, as explained above, have been described at great length. We have been advised, first of all, to convert ourselves into most grateful servants of God as regards relation to our fellow brethren. Our nature has been described as bearing three different phases in all our bearings in the world. Those phases are named sattva, raja, and tama. Sattva-guna is that property in our nature which is purely good as far as it can be pure in our present state. Raja-guna is neither good nor bad. Tama-guna is evil. Our pravrttis or tendencies and affections are described as the mainspring of all our actions, and it is our object in our life and conduct as well as thought to train up those affections and tendencies to the standard of sattva-guna as decided by the moral principle.
This is not, however, easily done. All of the springs of our actions should be carefully protected from tama-guna, the evil principle, by adopting the raja-guna at first, and when that is effected, man should subdue his raja-guna by means of the natural sattva-guna, which is the most powerful of all three of them when cultivated. Lust, idleness, wicked deeds, and degradation of human nature by intoxicating principles are described as exclusively belonging to tama-guna, the evil phase of nature. These are to be checked by marriage, useful work, and abstinence from intoxication and trouble to our neighbors and inferior animals.
Thus, when raja-guna has obtained supremacy in the heart, it is our duty to convert that raja-guna into sattva-guna, which is pre-eminently good. That married love, which is first cultivated, must now be sublimated into holy, good, and spiritual love, i.e., love between soul and soul. Useful work will now be converted into work of love and not of disgust or obligation. Abstinence from wicked work will be made to lose its negative appearance and converted into positive good work. Then we are to look to all living beings in the same light in which we look to ourselves, i.e., we must convert our selfishness into all possible disinterested activity towards all around us. Love, charity, good deeds, and devotion to God will be our only aim. We then become the servants of God by obeying His high and holy wishes.
Here we begin to be bhaktas, and we are susceptible of further improvement in our spiritual nature, as we have described above. All this is covered by the term abhidheya, the second cardinal point in the supreme religious work, the Bhagavat.
We have now before us the first two cardinal points in our religion explained somehow or other in the terms and thoughts expressed by our saviour who lived only four and a half centuries ago in the beautiful town of Nadia situated on the banks of the Bhagirathi. We must now proceed to the last cardinal point termed by that great re-establisher as prayojan or prospects.
What is the object of our spiritual development, our prayer, our devotion, and our union with God? The Bhagavat tells that the object is not enjoyment or sorrow, but continual progress in perfectly attaining spiritual holiness and symmetry or harmony both within and all around in perfect bliss.10
In the common place books of the Hindu religion in which the raja- and tama-gunas have been described as the ways of religion, we have descriptions of a local heaven and a local hell; the heaven as beautiful as anything on earth, and the hell as ghastly as any picture of evil. Besides this heaven, we have many more places where good souls are sent up in the way of promotion. There are eighty-four divisions of the hell itself; some more dreadful than the one that Milton has described in his Paradise Lost. These are certainly poetical and were originally created by the rulers of the country in order to check evil deeds of the ignorant people, who are not able to understand the conclusions of philosophy.
The religion of the Bhagavat is free from such a poetic imagination. Indeed, in some of the chapters, we meet with descriptions of these hells and heavens and accounts of curious tales, but we have been warned, somewhere in the book, not to accept them as real facts but as inventions to overawe the wicked and to improve the simple and the ignorant. The Bhagavat certainly tells us of a state of reward and punishment in the future according to deeds in our present situation. All poetic inventions, besides this spiritual fact, have been described as statements borrowed from other works in the way of preservation of old traditions in the book which superseded them all and put an end to the necessity of their storage.
If the whole stock of Hindu theological works which preceded the Bhagavat were burnt like the Alexandrian library and the sacred Bhagavat preserved as it is, not a part of the philosophy of the Hindus except that of the atheistic sects would be lost. The Bhagavat, therefore, may be styled both as a religious work and a compendium of all Hindu history, culture, and philosophy.
The Bhagavat does not allow its followers to ask anything from God except eternal love towards Him.11 The kingdom of the world, the beauties of the local heavens, and sovereignty over the material world are never the subjects of Vaisnava prayer.
The Vaisnava meekly and humbly says, “Father, Master, God, friend, and husband of my soul! Hallowed be Thy Name! I do not approach You for anything which You have already given me. I have sinned against You, and I now repent and solicit Your pardon. Let Thy holiness touch my soul and make me free from grossness. Let my spirit in all humility be devoted completely to Your holy service in absolute love towards Thee. I have called You my God, and let my soul be inspired in admiration at Your greatness! I have addressed You as my Master, and let my soul be unflinchingly devoted to Your service. I have called You my friend, and let my soul remain overwhelmed in reverential love towards You and not in dread or fear! I have called You my husband, and let my spiritual nature be in eternal union with You, forever loving and never dreading or feeling disgust. Father, let me have strength enough to go to You as the consort of my soul, so that we may be one in eternal Love! Peace to the world!”
Of such a nature is the prayer of the Bhagavat. One who can read the book will find the highest form of prayer in the expressions of Prahlad towards the universal and omnipresent Soul with powers to convert all unholy strength into meek submission or entire annihilation. This prayer will show what is the end and object of a Vaisnava’s life. He does not entertain any ambition to be the king of a certain part of the universe in his next life after death, nor does he dread a local, fiery, and turbulent hell, the idea of which would make the hairs of young Hamlet stand erect like the forks of a porcupine! His idea of salvation is not total annihilation of personal existence as Buddhists and the twenty-four Gods of the Jains procured for themselves! The Vaisnava is the meekest of all creatures and completely freed from all ambition. He wants to serve God spiritually after death as he has served Him both in spirit and matter while in this life. His constitution is a pure spirit, and his highest object of life is the attainment of divine and holy love both here and hereafter.
Here may arise a philosophical doubt. How the human soul could have a distinct existence from the universal Soul when the gross part of the human constitution will be no more? The Vaisnava can’t answer it, nor can any man on earth explain it satisfactorily. The Vaisnava meekly answers. He feels the truth, but he cannot understand it. The Bhagavat merely affirms that the Vaisnava soul, when freed from gross matter, will distinctly exist not in time and space but spiritually in the eternal spiritual kingdom of God where love is life, and hope and charity and continually increasing ecstasy without change are its various manifestations.
In understanding the true essence of the Deity, two great errors confront us and frighten us back to ignorance and its satisfaction. One of them is the idea that God is above all attributes, both material and spiritual, and is consequently above all conception. This is a noble idea but useless. If God is above conception and without any sympathy with the world, how was then this creation possible? This universe composed of properties feasible? The distinctions and phases of existence evidenced? The difference of value witnessed? Man, woman, beast, trees, magnetism, animal magnetism, electricity, landscape, water, and fire distinctly seen? In that case, Sankar Acharya’s mayavad theory would have been absolute philosophy.
The other error is that God is all attributes, i.e., intelligence, truth, goodness, and power. This is also a ludicrous idea. Scattered properties can never constitute a being. It is more impossible in the cases of co-existence of incoherent, incompatible, mutually opposed, or even belligerent principles, such as justice and mercy, and fullness and creative power, and so forth. Both ideas are imperfect.
The truth, as stated in the Bhagavat, is that properties, though many of them opposed or belligerent in nature, are united in a spiritual Being where they have full congruity, unity, sympathy, and harmony. Certainly this is beyond our comprehension. It is so owing to our nature being finite and God being infinite. Our ideas are constrained by the idea of space and time, but God is above any sort of limit or constraint. This is a glimpse of truth, and we must regard it as truth itself. Often, says Emerson, a glimpse of truth is better than an arranged system, and he is right.12
The Bhagavat has, therefore, a transcendental personal, all-intelligent, active, absolutely free, holy, good, all-powerful, omnipresent, just and merciful, and supremely spiritual Deity without a second, creating and preserving all that is in the universe. The highest object of the Vaisnava is to serve that infinite being forever spiritually in the activity of absolute love.
These are the main principles of the philosophy and religion inculcated by the work called the Bhagavat, and Vyas, in his great wisdom, tried his best to explain all these principles with the aid of pictures perceivable in the material world. The shallow critic will no doubt hastily and summarily reject this great philosopher as a man-worshipper. He would go so far as to scandalise him as a teacher of material love and the injurious principles of exclusive asceticism.
The critic should first read deeply the pages of the Bhagavat and train his mind up to the best eclectic philosophy which the world has ever obtained, and then we are sure he will pour panegyrics upon the great principal of the college of theology at Badrik Ashram which existed not less than 4,000 years ago.
The shallow critic’s mind will undoubtedly be changed if he but reflects upon only one great and fundamental point, i.e., how it could at all be possible that a spiritualist of the rank and school of Vyas, teaching the best principles of theism throughout the whole of the Bhagavat, and composing the four texts quoted in the beginning as the foundation of his mighty work, could have created upon the belief of men the idea that the sensual connection between a man with certain females is the highest object of worship! This is surely impossible, dear critic! Vyas could not have taught a common vairagi to set up an akhada (a place of worship) with a number of females, if found anywhere! Vyas, who could teach us repeatedly in the whole of the Bhagavat that sensual pleasures are momentary like the pleasure of rubbing the itching hand and that man’s highest duty is to have spiritual love with God, could never have prescribed the worship of, or even any indulgence in, sensual pleasures.13
His descriptions are undoubtedly thoroughly spiritual, and you must not connect matter of the gross world with it. Following this advice, dear critic, go through the Bhagavat, and I doubt not you will, in three months, weep and repent to God for having despised this great and noble revelation emanating through the heart and brain of the great Badarayan.
Yes, you nobly tell us that such philosophical comparisons produced injury in the ignorant and the thoughtless. You nobly point to the immoral deeds of the common and perverted vairagis, who shamelessly have the hardihood to call themselves “the followers of the Bhagavat and the great Chaitanya.” You nobly tell us that Vyas, unless purely explained, may lead thousands of men into great risk and trouble in time to come. But dear critic! Study the history of ages and countries. Where have you found the philosopher and the reformer fully understood by the people?
The popular religion is fear of God and not the pure spiritual love which Plato, Vyas, Jesus, and Chaitanya taught to their respective peoples. Whether you give the Absolute religion in figures or simple expressions or teach them by means of books or oral speeches, the ignorant and the thoughtless must degrade it. It is indeed very easy to tell and sweet to hear that Absolute Truth has such an affinity with the human soul that He comes through it as if intuitively. No exertion is necessary to teach the precepts of true religion. This is a deceptive idea.
It may be true of ethics and of the mere alphabet of religion but not of the highest form of faith which requires an exalted soul to understand. It certainly requires previous training of the soul in the elements of religion; just as the student of the fractions must have a previous attainment in the elemental numbers and figures in arithmetic and geometry. “Truth is good” is an elemental truth which is easily grasped by the common people. But if you tell a common uneducated man that God is infinitely intelligent and powerful in His spiritual nature, he will conceive a different idea from what you yourself entertain of the expression.
All higher truths, though intuitive, are realisable only through education beginning from the simple and elementary principles of religion. That religion is the purest which gives you the purest idea of God, and the absolute religion requires an absolute conception by man of his own spiritual nature. How, then, is it possible that the ignorant will ever be able to obtain the absolute religion as long they are ignorant of the basic teachings and philosophy of religion? It is only when thought awakens that the thinker no longer remains ignorant and becomes naturally capable of obtaining an absolute idea of religion.
This is a truth, and God has made it such in His infinite goodness, impartiality, and mercy. Labour has its wages, and the idle must never be rewarded. “Higher the work, greater is the reward” is a useful maxim of truth. The thoughtless must necessarily remain satisfied with mere superstition till he wakes and opens his eyes to the God of love.
The reformers, out of their universal love and solicitude for rendering good to all, sincerely endeavor by some means or other to make the thoughtless drink the cup of salvation, but the latter drink it with wine and fall to the ground benumbed under the influence of intoxication because the imagination has also the power of making a thing what it never was. It is in this way that the evils of nunneries and the corruption of the akhadas commenced. No, we must not minimise or scandalise the saviour of Jerusalem or the saviour of Nadia for these subsequent evils of some perverted followers. Luthers, in spite of such cheap critics, are just what we want for the correction of those evils by means of true interpretation of the original precepts.
Two more principles characterise the Bhagavat, viz., liberty and progress of the soul throughout eternity. The Bhagavat teaches us that God gives us truth as He gave it to Vyas, and for us all, when we earnestly seek for it. Truth is eternal and inexhaustible. The soul receives a revelation of truth only when he is really anxious for it. The souls of the great thinkers of the by-gone ages, who now live spiritually, often approach our inquiring spirit and assist it in its proper and gradual development. Thus Vyas was assisted by Narad and Brahma.
Our many sastras, or in other words, books of thought, do not contain all that we could get from the infinite Father. No book is without its errors. God’s revelation is no doubt absolute truth, but it is scarcely received and preserved in its natural and pristine purity.
We have been advised in the fourteenth chapter of the eleventh skandha of the Bhagavat14 to believe that truth, when revealed, is absolute, but the same is liable to be imbued with the tincture of the nature of the receiver in course of time and is thus completely changed and converted into error through continual exchange of hands from age to age. Consequently sincere revelations from authentic sources are continually necessary in order to keep up truth in its original purity.
We are thus warned to be careful in our studies of old authors, however wise they are reputed to be. Here we have full liberty to reject any wrong idea which is not sanctioned by the peace of conscience.
Vyas was not satisfied with what he collected in the Vedas, arranged in the Puranas, and composed in the Mahabharata. The peace of his conscience did not sanction his labors. It dictated him from inside, “No, Vyas! You cannot rest contented with the erroneous picture of truth which was necessarily presented to you by the sages of by-gone days! You must yourself knock at the door of the inexhaustible store of truth from which the former sages drew their wealth. Go, go up to the fountainhead of truth, where no pilgrim meets with disappointment of any kind.” Vyas did it and obtained what he wanted. We have been all advised to do so.
Liberty then is the principle which we must appreciate as the most valuable gift of God. We must not allow ourselves to be led by those who lived and thought before us. We must think for ourselves and try to get further truths which are still undiscovered or unadapted in the present conditions and circumstances for purpose of our realisation of the same.
In the twenty-third text of the twenty-first chapter of eleventh skandha of the Bhagavat, we have been advised to take the spirit of the sastras and not the words.
फलश्रुतिरियं नृणां न श्रेयो रोचनं परम् ।
श्रेयोविवक्षया प्रोक्तं यथा भैषज्यरोचनम् ॥
phala-srutir iyam nrnam na sreyo rochanam param
sreyo-vivaksaya proktam yatha bhaisajya-rochanam
The Bhagavat stands therefore for a religion of liberty, of unmixed truth, and of absolute love.
The other characteristic is progress. Liberty certainly is the father of all progress. Holy liberty is the cause of progress upwards and upwards in eternity and in endless activity of love. Liberty abused causes degradation, and the Vaisnava must always carefully use this benign and beautiful gift of God. The progress of the Bhagavat is described as the rise of the soul from nature up to nature’s God, from maya, the absolute and the infinite energy, to the transcendental absolute Person Himself.
Hence the Bhagavat says about itself:
निगमकल्पतरोर्गलितं फलं शुकमुखादमृतद्रवसंयुतम् ।
पिवत भागवतं रसमालयं मुहुरहो रसिका भुवि भावुकाः ॥
nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam
pibata bhagavatam rasam alayam
muhur aho rasika bhuvi bhavukah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 1.1.3)
“It is the fruit of the tree of thought, mixed with the nectar of the speech of Sukadev. It is the Temple of spiritual love! O men of piety! Drink deep this nectar of the Bhagavat repeatedly till you are taken from this mortal frame!”
Then in the same strain the saragrahi or the progressive Vaisnava adds:
सुरससारयुतं फलमत्र यद्विरसतादिविरुद्धगुणञ्च तत्।
त्यज विरागमितो मधुपायिनो रसिकसाररसं पिव भावकाः ॥
surasa-sara-yutam phalam atra yad
virasat-adi-viruddha-gunan cha tat
tyaja viragamito madhu-payino
rasika-sara-rasam piba bhavakah
“That fruit of the tree of thought is a composition, as a matter of course, of the sweet and the opposite principles. O men of piety! Like the bee taking honey from the flower, drink the sweet principle and reject that which is not so.”
The Bhagavat is undoubtedly a difficult work, and where it does not relate to picturesque descriptions of traditional and poetical life, its literature is stiff and its branches are covered in the garb of an unusual form of Sanskrit poetry. Works on philosophy must necessarily be of this character. Commentaries and notes are therefore required to assist us in our study of the book. The best commentator is Sridhar Swami, and the truest interpreter is our great and noble Chaitanyadev15. God bless the spirit of our noble guides who impart wisdom for our eternal good.
These great souls were not like comets appearing in the firmament for a while and disappearing as soon as their mission is done. They are like so many suns shining all along to give light and heat to the succeeding generations. Long time yet to roll on, when they will be succeeded by others of their sublime mind, beauty, and caliber.
The texts of Vyas are still ringing in the ears of all theists as if some great spirit is singing them from a distance! Badrik Ashram! What a powerful name! The seat of Vyas and of the selected religion of thought! The pilgrim tells us that the land is cold! How mightily did the genius of Vyas generate the heat of philosophy in such cold region! Not only did he heat the locality but sent its serene ray far to the shores of the sea! Like the great Napoleon in the political world, he knocked down empires and kingdoms of old and by-gone philosophy by the mighty stroke of his transcendental thoughts! This is real power!
Atheistic philosophy of Sankhya, Charvak, the Jains, and the Buddhists shuddered with fear at the heroic approach of the spiritual sentiments and creations of the Bhagavat philosopher! The army of the atheists was composed of gross and impotent creatures like the legions that stood under the banner of the fallen Lucifer, but the pure, holy, and spiritual soldiers of Vyas, sent by his almighty Father, were invincibly fierce to the enemy and destructive of the unholy and the unfounded.
He that works in the light of God sees the minutest things in creation; he that wields the power of God is invincible and great; and he that performs his destined mission with God’s holiness in his heart finds no difficulty whatsoever in the accomplishment of his duty against unholy things and thoughts. God works through His agents, and these agents are styled by Vyas himself as the incarnation of the power of God. All great souls were incarnations of this class, and we have the authority of this fact in the Bhagavat itself:
अवतारा ह्यसंख्ये या हरेः सत्त्वनिधेर्द्विजाः ।
यथाविदासिनः कुल्याः सरसः स्युः सहस्रशः ॥
avatara hy asankhyeya hareh sattva-nidher dvijah
yathavidasinah kulyah sarasah syuh sahasrasah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 1.3.26)
“O Brahmans! God is the soul of the principle of goodness! The incarnations of that principle are innumerable! As thousands of watercourses flow out of one inexhaustible fountain of water, so these incarnations are but emanations of that infinitely good energy of God which is full at all times.”
The Bhagavat, therefore, allows us to call Vyas and Narad as saktyaves-avatars of the infinite energy of God, and the spirit of this text goes far to honor all great reformers and teachers who lived and will live in future in this or other countries. The Vaisnava is ready to honor all great men without distinction of colour or caste, because they are filled with the energy of God.
See how universal is the religion of Bhagavat. It is not intended for a certain class of the Hindus alone, but it is a gift to man at large in whatever country born, whatever society bred, and whatever culture produced. In short, Vaisnavism is the absolute love binding all men together into the infinite, unconditioned, and absolute God.
May its peace reign forever in the whole universe in the continual development of its purity through the exertions of the future heroes, who will be blessed according to the promise of the Bhagavat with powers from the almighty Father, the Creator, Preserver, and the Annihilator of all things in heaven and earth.
The teaching of Srimad Bhagavat falls into three distinct parts according to the treatment of: (1) sambandha or relationship, (2) abhidheya or the function or activity that pertains to the relationship, and (3) prayojan or object or fruit of such activity.
The aphorisms of the Upanisads, which contain the highest teaching of the Vedic literature, are presented in the form of a systematic body of knowledge resolvable under the head of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojan in the compilation of the Brahma-sutra or Vedanta. In his Sat-sandarbha, Sri Jiva Goswami has applied the same method of treatment to the contents of Srimad Bhagavat, which is admitted to be the only authentic bhasya or exposition of the Brahma-sutra.
अर्थोऽयं व्रह्यसूत्राणां भारतार्थविनिर्णयः ।
गायत्रीभाष्यरूपोऽसौ वेदार्थपरिबृंहितः ॥
artho ’yam brahma-sutranam bharatartha-vinirnayah
gayatri-bhasya-rupo ’sau vedartha-paribrmhitah
But the first of the six Sandarbhas, viz., the Tattva-sandarbha, applies itself to the elucidation of the epistemology of transcendental knowledge and discusses incidentally the purpose, definition, and scope of the principles of classification of the Brahma-sutra. It supplies, as it were, the key to the knowledge that is detailed in his next five Sandarbhas. It has made possible the comparative study of religion on the only admissible and scientific basis. Its main conclusions are therefore summarised in the following portions as the preliminary to the study and appreciation of the teachings of the Bhagavat. 16
Sri Krishna, the ultimate reality, is one without a second.17 Sri Krishna, the absolute integer, is distinct from His sakti18 or counter-whole moiety, including her integrated and dissociable fractional parts in their synthetic and analytic manifestation. Sri Krishna is the predominating Absolute. His sakti is the predominated Absolute in the positions of antaranga, tatastha, and bahiranga, respectively.19
Antaranga is that which pertains to the proper entity of the Absolute Person. It is also called svarup-sakti for this reason. The literal meaning of the word antaranga is “that which belongs to the inner body”. Sakti is rendered as “power” or “energy”.
Tatastha means literally “that which is on the indefinable border-line as between land and water”. This intermediate power does not belong to any definable region of the person of Sri Krishna. It manifests itself on the border-line between the inner and the outer body of the Absolute.
The power that manifests itself on the outer body is the bahiranga-sakti. As there is no duality between the body and entity of the absolute Person, the distinctions as between the inner, outer, and marginal positions of His body are in terms of the realisation of the individual soul.
Although Sri Krishna is one without a second, He has His own multiple forms corresponding to the degree and variety of His subjective manifestations. The subjective entity of Sri Krishna is not liable to any transformation. His different forms are, therefore, distinct aspects of the one form manifesting themselves to the different aptitudes of His servitors.
But the power of Sri Krishna is, however, transformable by the supreme will of Sri Krishna Himself. These transformations of power in the cases of the antaranga- and tatastha-saktis are eternal processes. But in the case of the bahiranga-sakti, the transformations of power are temporary manifestations. The phenomenal world or rather universe is the product of the external power of Sri Krishna. The absolute realm is the transformation of the inner power. Individual souls are the transformations of the marginal power.
The conception of the parinati or substantive change is not applied to the transformations of the inner and marginal powers. It has application only to the transformations of the outer power. The eternal transformations of the inner power are called tad-rupa-vaibhava or the display of the connotation of the visible figure of divinity. Individual souls or jivas are the eternal infinitesimal emanations of the marginal power, capable of subservience to the inner power but also susceptible to dissociation from the working of the inner power.
The conception of sakti or the predominated Absolute and the transformations and products of the same is developed by Sri Ramanuja for the negative purpose of refuting the claims of the impersonalist school of kevala-advaitavad to Vedic (or more properly Upanisadic) sanction to their catchword of undifferentiated monism of Sri Ramanuja. The system of Sri Ramanuja is called visista-advaita. He shows that the unity of the Absolute is not tampered or affected by the initiative existence of His attributive connotation and its subservient activities thereof. The teaching of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, which is identical with that of Srimad Bhagavat, supplements and develops the conception of sakti of Sri Ramanuja in most important respects.
Sri Krishna is termed Advaya-jnan in Srimad Bhagavat.20 It may be rendered as absolute knowledge. Absolute knowledge, as such, cannot be challenged. He can, therefore, only be approached by the method of complete self-surrender by the reciprocal cognition of individual souls who being otherwise ineligible even for such approach.
Transcendental epistemology is differentiated from empiric epistemology in respect of relationship, function, and object on account of the reason that the former refers to entities that are located totally beyond the whole range of assertive cognitive endeavour normally exercisable by the common deluded people of the world for their temporary purposes here.
On account of the peculiarities of their infinitesimality, essentially spiritual nature, and marginal position, all individual souls have the constitutional liberty of exercising option of choice between complete subservience and active or passive hostility to Sri Krishna.
These opposed aptitudes lead them to the adoption of correspondingly different methods for the realisation of the respective ends.
Those methods that are adopted for the practice of active hostility to the Absolute are termed pratyaksa (direct individual perception) and paroksa (associated collective perception by many persons past and present) respectively.
The aparoksa method (the method of cessation from individual and collective perception) leads, however, to the position of neutrality.
The pratyaksa and paroksa methods are diametrically opposed to the methods approved by the Bhagavat for the search of the Truth.
The aproksa method also tends to an unwholesome and negative result if it seeks to stand on the mere rejection of the pratyaksa and paroksa methods without trying to progress towards the positive transcendence. Such inactive policy would indeed ultimately resolve into the practice of passive hostility to the Absolute and as such is even more condemnable than open hostility.
No method can, however, be recognised as suitable for the purpose of the quest of the Truth that is actuated more or less by the intention or actual action of ignoring, defying, or opposing the absolute supremacy of Sri Krishna. In other words, individual souls cannot realise the subjective nature of the Absolute except by the sincere exercise of their fullest subservience to Sri Krishna and His inner power.
The failure of individual souls to find the Truth is brought about by their own innate perversity. They possess perfect freedom of choice as between complete subservience to Sri Krishna and the practice of active or passive hostility to Him. There is no other alternative open to them. If they chose to refuse to serve, they have to practice hostility or indifference towards the Absolute. The perverse individual soul is not obstructed in the active exercise of his freedom of choice. He is, however, enabled to exercise the functions of hostility and indifference, within consistent deterring limits, by dint of the wonderful contrivance of the deluding power of Sri Krishna. The continued, deliberate exercise of such hostility and indifference towards the Absolute by the perverse individual soul results necessarily in the suicidal abdication of all spiritual activity by the deliberate offender.
The methods that are adopted for practising active and complete subservience to the Absolute are termed respectively as adhoksaja (external or reverential method of serving the transcendental object of worship) and aprakrta (internal or confidential method of serving the transcendental object of worship). Srimad Bhagavat inculcates and divulges the search of the Absolute by the adhoksaja and aprakrta methods. It condemns the pratyaksa and paroksa methods but recognises the proper use of the aparoksa method.
The pratyaksa, paroksa, and the passive aparoksa methods are collectively called the aroha or ascending process. The proper aparoksa, adhoksaja, and aprakrta methods constitute the avaroha or descending process. By the adoption of the ascending process, the perverse individual soul strives to bring about his suicidal end by the positive and negative perverse manipulation of mundane experience gained through direct and indirect sense perception.
On the other hand, by following the descending process the soul is enabled to strive for the realisation of the unalloyed service of the Absolute through the honest exercise of his unreserved receptive aptitude to the initiative of the Absolute when He is pleased to descend or come down to the plane of the soul’s tiny, perverse cognition.
The fruits that are realisable by the different methods of individual endeavour correspond to the particular nature of aim that is kept in view. The pratyaksa and paroksa methods aim at dharma (virtue), artha (utility), and kama (sensuous gratification). The wrong aparoksa method aims at pseudo-moksa (annihilation). The right aparoksa method aims at positive transcendence. The adhoksaja method aims at bhakti or reverential transcendental service towards the Absolute. The aprakrita method has in view the realisation of prema or divine love.
Pure theism begins with the first appearance of the positive desire for the service of the Absolute, who is located beyond the range of our sensuous activity.21 It involves the clear perception of the fact that exercise of all empiric activity is nothing but the deliberate practice of perverse hostility against the absolute supremacy of Sri Krishna.
The world adhoksaja, which is applied in Srimad Bhagavat to the object of worship, refers to the fact that Sri Krishna has reserved the right of not being exposed to human senses. The theistic methods alone thus become ineligible to apply to the approach and realisation of proper entity of the Absolute.
Those who are in rebellion against the supremacy of Sri Krishna on account of their adoption of sensuous activity are prevented from all access to His presence through the operation of the deluding power of Krishna. The individual soul is always susceptible to being thus deluded by maya (the limiting or measuring potency). These effects and resulting conditions ensuing from the practice of sensuous activities in this mundane realm of finite existence are produced and provided by maya for purpose of correction of the suicidal perversity of rebellious souls.
It is in this manner that a person who is averse to the service of Sri Krishna is made to proceed along the tracks of karma and jnan by the ascending process for gaining the bitter experience of such practice of perverse hostility to Sri Krishna and his own self. This world is inhabited by persons who are deliberately addicted to this suicidal course. They are unconditionally committed to the ascending process for sojourn in this realm of nescience. The method is further characterised by the hypocritical assumption of the validity of experience derived through the senses for providing progressive guidance in the quest of a state of perfect felicity.
The method of quest in which the Truth Himself takes the initiative in revealing Himself is termed as the avaroha or descending process. The individual soul can have no access to the Absolute by reason of his infinitesimality, dissociable marginal position, and his own nature as tiny emanation of power. He can, however, have the view of the Truth only when the Absolute is pleased to manifest His descent to the very plane of his tiny cognition.
Real theism cannot begin till the individual soul is enabled by the manifestation of the descent of the Absolute to have the opportunity for His service. The Absolute manifests His descent in the form of the Name or the transcendental divine sound on the lips of His pure devotees. Diksa or the communication of the knowledge of the transcendental in the form of the sound to the submissive receptive cognition of the individual soul by authorised agents of the Absolute is the Vedic mode of initiation into transcendental knowledge.
The Name is the object of worship of all pure souls. The transcendental service of the Name, or bhakti, is the proper function of all souls and the only mode of quest of the Truth.
The pursuit of this right method of quest leads to a growing perfection of bhakti and progressive realisation of the subjective nature of the object of worship. Srimad Bhagavat uses the pregnant phrase “really real thing” (vastava-vastu)22 to denote the entity whose service is realisable by and in the right method of quest. Srimad Bhagavat accordingly distinguishes between apparent and real truth that is experienced respectively by the followers of the ascending and descending methods of quest.23 It admits the existence of apparent truth and the followers of apparent truth alongside real truth and the servitors of the real truth.24
The true conception of the Absolute is realised by following the right method of quest. The ultimate reality is termed in the Sattvata-sastras as Brahma, Paramatma, and Bhagavan.25
The Brahma conception stresses the necessity of excluding the deluded, concrete, limited experience of the followers of apparent truth.
The conception of Paramatma seeks to establish a tangible connection between this temporal world and the ultimate reality.
Both of these conceptions present not only an imperfect but also grossly misleading view of the Absolute. The conception of Bhagavan as transcendental personality, who is approachable by suddha-bhakti or unalloyed devotion of the soul, corresponds to the complete realisation of the Absolute which, necessarily, also accommodates and supplements the rival conceptions of Brahma and Paramatma.
The comparative view of the three conceptions is clearly stated in a passage of the kadachas of Svarup Damodar quoted in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta (1.1.3). It is also stated by Sri Jiva Goswami in Tattva-sandarbha (8).
The Brahma conception is misunderstood by exclusive monists (kevala-advaita of the Sankar school) who quite disingenuously assume that such conception denied the transcendental personality and figure of the Absolute. The root of the error lies in the apprehension of the impersonalist school that this sort of admission of concreteness in the Absolute will result in the importation of the undesirable features of apparent truth, experienced in the methods of sensuous perception, into the transcendental conception of the absolute reality favoured by the scriptures.
The method of suddha-bhakti, while recognising fully the necessity of admitting the transcendental nature of the ultimate reality, does not at all deny the immanent and transcendent connection of the Absolute with manifest mundane existence. This sort of connection is also sought to be recognised in a wrong and offensive way in the conception of Paramatma by the yogis. However, the conception of Bhagavan realised by the process of suddha-bhakti harmonises these respective requirements as mere secondary features of the proper transcendental personality of the Absolute. The adhoksaja and aprakrta methods of quest alone can tend to such realisation.
Sambandha or relationship implies a numerical reference. The ultimate reality is one without a second, although the aspects of the Absolute may prove different in different eyes. The unity of the ultimate reality carries a similarity to the integer of mathematical conception; denoting Himself as the object of worship (Sri Krishna) and connoting His sakti in her three aspects and her transformations and products.
Under relationship, therefore, come all those parts of the teaching of the Bhagavat that reveal the knowledge of the subjective nature of Sri Krishna, the subjective nature of His sakti or power in all her three aspects, and also the subjective nature of the activities of the different aspects of power.
Under abhidheya or function are included all those parts of the teaching of Srimad Bhagavat which reveal the nature of transcendental worship and, negatively, that of the activity of aversion to Sri Krishna.
Under proyojan or fruit are included those portions of the teaching of Srimad Bhagavat that deal with prema or spiritual love and negatively with dharma (virtue), artha (material utility), kama (lust), and moksa (merging into the Absolute).
These definitions of relationship, function, and fruit are supplied by Sri Jiva Goswami in his Tattva-sandarbha as a preliminary to his comparative treatment of the theme of the Srimad Bhagavat under those respective heads. The conception of relationship, function, and fruit differs in the case of the followers of the different methods of search of the truth.
The epistemological considerations detailed above on the lines of the study of Sri Jiva Goswami can alone enable us to understand, in any rational form, the genesis of the misconceptions that have been engendered by empiric thinking about the nature of the divine personality (Purusottam) that is revealed in the Upanisads and, in an unambiguous form, in Srimad Bhagavat.
Srimad Bhagavat targets the acme of personality (Purusottam) in Sri Krishna.26 The worship of Sri Krishna is the only full-fledged, unadulterated function of all souls; the only complete theistic worship. All other forms of worship represent the infinity of gradations of approach towards this complete worship.
Pure theism, involving active reciprocal relationship of the soul with divinity, does not begin till there is actual realisation of the transcendental personality of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The degree of this realisation corresponds to that of the loving aptitude of His worship. The proper figure of Sri Krishna (Svayam-rupa) is identical with the entity of Krishna and is one without a second. There is an infinity of aspects of the divine figure that emanate from the figure-in-Himself (Svayam-rupa). These plural aspects of the divine figure are of the nature of identities, manifestations, expansions, plenary parts, plenary parts of parts, and descending divinities (Avatars). These divine aspects, who are part and parcel of Divinity in His fullness, are worshipped by the corresponding aptitudes of love of Their respective worshippers.
Sri Krishna is possessed of infinite power (sakti). Three aspects of His sakti are distinguishable by the individual soul.27 These three aspects are svarup-sakti, jiva-sakti, and maya-sakti.
The Power of Sri Krishna stands to Him in the attributive reference. The personality of Sakti is, therefore, that of the counter-whole of the Absolute in Her three aspects and their transformations. The relationship of service subsists between Sri Krishna and His Power in all of Her aspects and transformations. The infinite aspects of the divine personality Himself, emanating from the figure-in-Himself (Svayam-rupa), are related to Sri Krishna as servitor Divinities who are possessors of Power.
These divine persons show an order of classification into the categories of Svayam-prakas (manifestation-in-Himself), Tad-ekatma-rupa (essentially identical figure) and Avesa-rupa (the figure of divine superimposition). Of these, Svayam-prakas is, as it were, the other self of Svayam-rupa and is also One without a second. Tad-ekatma-rupa and Avesa-rupa are multifarious. The account of the divine personality in all His aspects is detailed in Brhad-bhagavatamrta of Sri Sanatan Goswami summarised in Chaitanya-charitamrta (Madhya-lila, 20.165–374). Each of these divine persons possesses His own absolute realm (Vaikuntha) where He is served by the infinity of His servitors. These Vaikunthas transcend the countless worlds of finite existence constituting the realm of the deluding power (maya).
Sri Krishna is possessed of sixty-four divine excellences (aprakrta gunas). Sri Narayan, the supreme object of reverential worship, possesses sixty of the full perfections of divine excellence. Brahma and Rudra, who wield the delegated powers of mundane creation and destruction, possess fifty-five excellences but not in their full divine measure. Individual souls (jivas) possess fifty of the excellences of Krishna in an infinitesimal measure.28 These concrete details are revealed by the Puranas and elaborated in the works of the Goswamis.
The clue to the supreme excellence of the Personality of Sri Krishna is supplied by the principle of rasa which is defined by Sri Rupa as “that ecstatic principle of concentrated deliciousness that is tasted by Sri Krishna and in sequel reciprocated by the serving individual soul on the plane that transcends mundane thought”.29 Sri Krishna is the figure-in-Himself of the whole compass of the nectarean principle of rasa (Akhila-rasamrta-murti).30 The figure of Krishna excels all other aspects of the divine personality by being the supreme repository of all the rasas.31
The supreme possessor of power, Sri Krishna, is inseparably coupled with His antaranga-sakti or power inhering in His own proper Figure. Srimad Bhagavat refers to the service of a particular gopi (lit., one who is fully eligible for the service of Sri Krishna) being preferred by Sri Krishna to those of all the other gopis.32 In other words, the svarup- or antaranga-sakti is one and all-perfect. She is the “predominated Absolute.” She has her own specific figure, viz., that of Sri Radhika. The two aspects of svarup-sakti, namely, tatastha-sakti and maya- or bahiranga-sakti, reveal themselves in the intermediate and outer regions of the divine figure. Jivas or individual souls are detachable infinitesimal emanations of the tatastha-sakti, sharing the essence of the plenary spiritual power. Individual souls appear on the border-line between the inner and outer zones of divine power. They have no locus standi in their nascent or tatastha state. They are eternally exposed to the opposite attractions of svarup-sakti and maya-sakti at the two poles. Their proper affinity is with svarup-sakti, but they are susceptible to be overpowered by maya-sakti, at their option. If they choose to be the subservient to maya-sakti, they are subjected to ignorance of their proper nature which results in confirmed aversion to the service of Sri Krishna. In this manner is brought about the deluded condition of individual souls who sojourn in the realm of maya. The constitutions of individual souls in their nascent state and the realm of maya are comparable to the outer penumbral and shadowy zones respectively of the sun, while the position of antaranga-sakti is like the inner ball of light which is the proper abode of the sun-god who corresponds to Sri Krishna.
Individual souls are detachable infinitesimal emanations of the marginal power located on the borderline and exposed to the opposite pulls of svarup- and maya-saktis. They are distinct from the plenary emanations, manifestations, and multiples of svarup-sakti on the one hand and from the products of maya-sakti on the other.
The individual soul in his nascent marginal position is confronted with the alternative of choice between subservience to the plenary power on the one hand and apparent domination over the deluding power on the other. When he chooses the latter alternative, he forgets his relationship of subservience to the inner power and his subservience to Sri Krishna through such subservience. It is never possible for the conditioned soul to understand the nature of the service of Sri Krishna that is rendered by His inner power. There is, therefore, categorical distinction between the function of individual souls and of the inner power even on the plane of service. Superficial readers of the commentary of Sridhar Swami on the Bhagavat are liable to miss the importance of this distinction which has not been explicitly stated by the commentator. If any person is led to suppose the function of individual souls to be identical with that of the inner power on the strength of the brevity of Sridhar, he is liable to fall into the error of philanthropism.
Neither should Sridhar Swami be regarded as belonging to the school of exclusive monism, which is the contention of certain scholars of the impersonalistic school. Sridhar Swami has described, with true esoteric insight, the functions of Rama and other extensions of the figure Sri Radhika, the plenary inner power, in his commentary on the Bhagavat. He is the authoritative commentator of the eternal lila of the divine personality in His different aspects and Avatars.33 Sridhar Swami belongs historically to the school of Visnu Swami, the propounder of the school of suddha-advaita, and professes unalloyed devotion to Nrsimha Visnu.
The reticence of Sridhar Swami has been supplied by the achintya-bhedabheda system propounded by Mahaprabhu Sri Krishna Chaitanya. In the works of Sri Rupa, Sanatan, Jiva, and Krishnadas Kaviraj and the commentaries of Sri Visvanath Chakravarti, the subject of the working of the inner power and individual souls has been treated in all its details in pursuance of the achintya-bhedabheda doctrine. This constitutes the most distinctive contribution of Gaudiya–Vaisnavism to the cause of pure theism. The clue to the comparative study of the working of power on the transcendental plane is supplied by the account of the Rasa dance in Srimad Bhagavat. The system of suddha-advaita is not incompatible with Gaudiya–Vaisnavism in spite of its reticence on this particular aspect. Neither Ramanuja nor Madhva has treated the subject of the functioning of power in such elaborate manner.
When the individual soul chooses the alternative of unreserved subservience to the inner power, he has access to the service of the untampered personality of the Absolute. The kaivalya state,34 mentioned in Srimad Bhagavat, is the state of unalloyed devotion to the untampered personality of the Absolute. This is also explained in that sense in Sridhar Swami’s commentary. This unalloyed service, which was promulgated by the school of Visnu Swami to which Sridhar Swami belongs, forms the basis of the teaching of Srimad Bhagavat.
Execlusive monists imagine that the figure of the object of worship exists only in the mundane world, and that in the final position, there is also no activity of worship. In other words, they deny the possibility of the lila or the eternal transcendental activities of Sri Krishna. Srimad Bhagavat flatly denies this groundless contention in the most explicit terms.35 There is total absence of all mundane reference in the transcendental activity of suddha-bhakti. Exclusive monists deny the possibility of the total absence of all mundane reference in transcendental manifestation. It is absurd to class Sridhar Swami, who is the standard commentator of transcendental lila described in Srimad Bhagavat, with the exclusive monists who deny the very possibility of transcendental activity.
The word activity is not expressive of lila. It corresponds to kriya or mundane activity. Transcendental activity has neither beginning nor end. There is, of course, relativity in lila, but it is not the unwholesome relativity of mundane activity or kriya. The notion that lila can have an end or termination is due to ignorant confusion between the conceptions of lila and kriya. Suddha-bhakti belongs to the category of lila. In Vrndavan, the gopis serve Sri Krishna by unconventional amorous love. The super-excellence of this service cannot be admitted if the absolutely wholesome nature of all unalloyed activity on the plane of Vraja is disbelieved on principle by one’s ignorant perverse judgment.
The function of conditioned souls is of two kinds. The function that is provided by the varnasram system for conditioned souls is not opposed to suddha-bhakti. Srimad Bhagavat has treated the varnasram system from the point of view of unalloyed devotion. Thereby it has provided an intelligent way of viewing the situation of conditioned souls during their sojourn to the mundane world. The spiritual value of the varnasram system is due to the fact that it admits the possibility of the activity of conditioned souls being endowed with reflected spiritual quality by being directed towards the unalloyed service of the Absolute on the transcendental plane. It is the purpose of the varnasram regulation to impart this direction to the activity of conditioned souls. The crucial nature of this theistic purpose of the varnasram arrangement is fully treated in Srimad Bhagavat.36 It is not explicitly treated in any other sastric work.
Mahaprabhu Sri Krishna Chaitanya is the great exponent of the unalloyed spiritual function of all souls in its highest developed state. His teaching is identical with that of Srimad Bhagavat. It is in agreement with the principle of kaivalya of suddha-advaita school to which Sridhar Swami belongs. But the kaivalya (exclusivism) of the Bhagavat is wholly different from the conception of merging into the Brahma of impersonalistic kevala-advaitavad.
The nature of the eternal function of all unalloyed individual souls has been indicated above. The Bhagavat (1.2.6) declares bhakti or service of the adhoksaja (transcendental) Bhagavan (absolute person possessed of all attributes) as the function of all individual souls in their pure spiritual state. The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu states that function of suddha-bhakti is uncontaminated with mundane intellectual, utilitarian, ethical, or unethical activity.37 Suddha-bhakti is the only proper function of all unalloyed individual souls and is located on the plane of transcendence. But all animation is potentially eligible for the transcendental service of the Absolute.38 The Visnu-purana states that conduct, enjoined by varnasram system, derives all of its value from the fact that its only object is the spiritual service of Visnu.39
Bhagavat (11.17–18) distinguishes between the function the paramahamsa and the activities of conditioned souls enjoined by the varnasram system. Varnasram life is not the unalloyed spiritual life that is led by fully liberated souls. It is the stage preparatory to such life. Neither is it on a par with the life of unmixed sensuousness that is led by people outside the varnasram society. Every form of activity of conditioned souls outside the varnasram system is inspired by meaningless malicious hostility towards the Absolute. All such activity is necessarily atheistic. This mundane world is the congenial sphere for the practice of the deluded dominating activity that is coveted by conditioned souls for practising active aversion towards the Absolute. The conditions for such activity are supplied by the deluding power. They constitute the realm of nescience, spiritual ignorance or achit. But as soon as the activity of chit, or uneclipsed cognition, is aroused in the spiritual essence of the misguided soul, it dissipates by its appearance such wrong addiction to the ignorant activities of this world and also the susceptibility of being tempted by the deluding power.
There is no common ground between unalloyed spiritual function and the activity of conditioned souls in the grip of nescience. The one does not dovetail into the other. It is for this reason that the unalloyed spiritual function can never be understood by the resources of the archaeologists, historians, allegorists, philosophers, etc., of this world. Such empiric speculations tamper the transcendental personality of the Absolute. They belong to the realm of nescience and constitute the active denial of the entity of the Absolute. By indulging in such speculations, our spiritual nature is deprived of its proper function.
Conduct enjoined by the varnasram system is calculated to counteract the inherent atheistical trend of all worldly activities which are unavoidable in the conditioned state. The distinction between the deliberate atheistical activity of misguided souls, the guided activity of persons belonging to varnasram society, and the unalloyed spiritual function of fully liberated souls or paramahamsas is hinted in such texts as Mundaka (3.1–2), Svetasvatara-upanisad (4.6.7), Bhagavat (11.11.6).
Activities that are prompted by the urge for sensuous enjoyment create the discordant diversity of this world. One who is addicted to worldly enjoyment has a deluded way of looking at everything. When such a person is established in the proper activity of his unalloyed spiritual nature towards his transcendental Master, the only recipient of all willing service in the eternal world, the true view of everything is revealed to his serving vision. There can be no ignorance and misery if the world is viewed aright.
The urge for sensuous enjoyment expresses itself in the institutions of family and society of worldly-minded persons. They are the traps of the deluding energy. But these very traps are used as instruments of service of the Absolute by the awakened soul. The hymns of the Bhagavat always reveal the eternal service of the Absolute on the highest plane, identical with the personality of Sri Gaursundar, to the enlightened soul. I may refer in this connection to the interpretation of the Bhagavat that has been supplied by the commentaries of the Gaudiya–Vaisnava school. We read in those commentaries that the hymns of Bhagavat (11.5.33–34) which seem to be in praise of Sri Ramachandra as the ideal monogamous husband are in praise of Sri Krishna Chaitanya. This is not an instance of twisting the meaning of a text to suit the whim of the commentator. The language of Srimad Bhagavat reveals its true meaning only to the enlightened soul. That meaning is very different from what even the most renowned linguists may suppose it to be in their blind empiric vanity.
The Bhagavat gives the highest position to the service of Sri Krishna by the gopis (spiritual milkmaids of Vrndavan). In its account of the Rasa dance (circular amorous dance), it gives the clue to the distinctive nature of the services of Sri Radhika and other milkmaids.40
Sri Krishna is served by Sri Radhika by Herself and simultaneously by Her multiple bodily forms in the shapes of the residents of Vraja. The services of the other milkmaids, of Nanda and Yasoda, of Sridama and Sudama, of all the associates and servitors of Krishna in Vraja are part and parcel of the service of Sri Radhika. Sri Gurudev belongs to this inner group of the servitors. He is the divine manifested entity for disclosing the forms and activities of all eternal servitors of Sri Krishna. The function of Sri Gurudev is a fundamental fact in the lila of Vraja where Sri Krishna is served as the emporium of all the rasas. The servitors of Vraja minister to the gratification of the senses of Krishna in every way. Sri Gurudev is the divine exciting agent of the serving activity of Vraja.
The nature of transcendental Vraja-lila is liable to be misunderstood by the empiric study of the Bhagavat. The limit of empiric inference is reached by the speculations of the paroksa method. By the abandonment of empiricism, represented by the aparoksa method, the Brahma and Paramatma conceptions are realised. But these also are not objects of worship. We have already seen that the activity of service is possible only on the plane of the adhoksaja, which yields the realisation of the majestic personality of the Absolute as Sri Narayan. Aprakrta Vraja-lila, the central topic of the Bhagavat, is the highest form of adhoksaja realisation.
The dalliances of Sri Krishna in Vraja have a close resemblance to unconventional mundane amour. Sexuality, in all its forms, is an essentially repulsive affair on the mundane plane. It is, therefore, impossible to understand how the corresponding transcendental activity can be the most exquisitely wholesome service of the Absolute. It is, however, possible to be reconciled, to some extent, to the truth of the narrative of the Bhagavat if we are prepared to admit the reasonableness of the doctrine that the mundane world is the unwholesome reflection of the realm of the Absolute and that this world appears in a scale of values that is the reverse of that which it obtains in reality, of which it happens to be the shadow.
In the form of the narrative of the Bhagavat, the transcendental Vraja-lila manifests its descent to the plane of our mundane vision in the symbolic shapes resembling those of the corresponding mundane events. If we are disposed, for any reason, to underestimate the transcendental symbolism of the narrative of the Bhagavat, we are unable to avoid unfavourable and hasty conclusions regarding the nature of the highest, the most perfect, and the most charming form of the loving service of Divinity to which all other forms of his service are as the avenues of approach.
Sexuality symbolises the highest attraction and the acme of deliciousness of transcendental service. In the amorous performances of Vraja, the secrets of the eternal life are exhibited in their uncovered perfection in the activity of the love of unalloyed souls.
We may notice, in passing, certain significant differences that should prevent any hasty conclusions between Sri Krishna’s armorous dalliances and mundane sex activity. In Vraja-lila, Sri Krishna is under the age of eleven years. The spiritual milkmaids never conceive and bear children to Sri Krishna.41 The children born of Sri Krishna belong to the less perfect lila of Dvaraka. To suppose it to be the product of anthropomorphic speculation is the greatest offence against the divine lila. The Bhagavat declares the realisation of the true nature of the Vraja-lila, in pursuance of the srauta method, as the only remedy of all conditioned souls afflicted with the disease of mundane sexuality.
The conventions of civilised society for the regulation of sexual relationship attain their ethical perfection in the varnasram arrangement. A person belonging to the varnasram society can readily appreciate the transparent moral purity of life on the plane of Vaikuntha and Ayodhya, although he cannot understand their esoteric nature. In those realms, Godhead poses as the ideal monogamous husband. Ethical restrictions of sex relationship that are imposed at Ayodhya by the form of the monogamous marriage are relaxed at Dvaraka where the Absolute manifests His fuller personality and appears in the guise of the polygamous husband. The conventions of marriage are abrogated in Vrndavan where the sanctity of wedlock becomes secondary and a foil to the amorous exploits of Sri Krishna in His fullest manifestation.
The spiritual function in its unalloyed form has a real correspondence to mundane activity with the distinction that its objective mode of activity and instrumental are unalloyed spirit. This makes the inconceivable difference between spiritual function and mundane activity. It also supplies a kind of explanation of the fact that the activities in Vraja corresponding to the most wholesome performances on the mundane plane are, comparatively speaking, the least pleasing in the sight of Sri Krishna.
The sole object of all spiritual activity is gratification of the senses of Sri Krishna. When Sri Krishna is pleased, His servitors experience unmixed joy. This is the reverse of what happens in this world. Activity that yields enjoyment to the person indulging in the same alone possesses attraction on the mundane plane. But such selfish pleasure is never coveted on the plane of spiritual service. The plane of mundane sensuous enjoyment is thereby sharply differentiated from that of spiritual service in respect of the quality and orientation of their respective activities. Desire for mundane enjoyment is potentially, but uncongenially, inherent in the soul, and it can be cultivated at his option. The practice of it, however, leads to the abeyance of his truly natural serving function. Modern civilisation does not suspect its own degradation in seeking exclusively for mundane enjoyment. The mind and body of man have a natural aptitude for sensuous gratification, and all his ordinary mundane activities are practised for its realisation.
For this reason very few people in this world can grasp the significance of the statement of the Bhagavat and other spiritual scriptures that the unalloyed essence of the soul has a natural aptitude for the exclusive service of the Absolute which is utterly incompatible with mundane sensuous living.
In the transcendental service of the Absolute, the aptitude, form, as well as ingredients are uncovered, absolutely wholesome living reality. In this complete uncovering of the proper nature of a person by the perfection of his serving function, he is enabled to realise fully the abiding interests of his real entity. Such unconditional submissive activity towards the Absolute is also necessarily identical with the realisation of the perfect freedom of the soul expressing itself in the highest forms of his serving activity.
In the position of complete realisation of the activity of the uncovered soul, a person becomes eligible for participation in the transcendental Pastimes or lila of Sri Krishna (SB: 1.7.10, and Sridhar’s commentary on the same). The realisation of this all-absorbing love for Sri Krishna is the fruit or prayojan of the eternal spiritual activities of all pure souls.
Sri Krishna is directly served by His plenary inner power as His only consort. The residents of Vraja, the plane of this inner service, are extensions of the figure of the plenary divine Power. They are the divine participants in the divine Pastimes, as all those entities display the nature of the full servitorship of Divinity. Not so the souls of men, all of whom are susceptible to the temptations offered by the deluding face of the plenary Power for preventing the access of the non-residents of Vraja to the arena of the divine Pastimes. We, the sojourners of this mundane plane, have been thus kept out of the plane of Vraja by the deluding face of the divine Power.
Individual souls who are not part and parcel of the inner plenary power have no automatic access to the plane of Vraja. They are also lacking in spontaneous love for Sri Krishna. It is possible for them to attain to the love of Sri Krishna only as accepted subservients of the inhabitants of Vraja.
The first appearance of the spontaneous loving aptitude for Sri Krishna in an individual soul elevates him to the condition of the madhyam-bhagavat (mediocre servant of Sri Krishna) as distinct from the condition of the mahabhagavat who possesses love for Sri Krishna in the plenary measure which makes him eligible for participating as a subservient of the servitors of Vraja in the loving activities of the highest sphere of service.
In proportion, as the hesitant, reverential, serving disposition of the madhyam-bhagavat is gradually developed by the practice of pure service unto one of subservience to the inhabitants of Vraja in their unconventional performances of the highest loving services of Sri Krishna, such hesitation and distance are superseded by growing confidence and proximity to the object of one’s highest love. Thereby the spiritual vision is perfected in conformity with the natural capacity of an individual, and he is enabled to realise the full function of his specific spiritual self.
Goloka Vrndavan is realisable in the symbolic Vrndavan that is open to our view in this world by all persons whose love has been perfected by the mercy of the inhabitants of transcendental Vraja and not otherwise. The grossest misunderstanding of the subject of the Vraja-lila of Sri Krishna is inevitable if these considerations are not kept in view. All persons under the sinister influence of the deluding power of nescience are subject to such misunderstanding in one form or another. They are fated to see nothing but a mundane tract of country in the terrestrial (bhauma) Vrndavan and the practice of the grossest forms of debauchery in the Vraja Pastimes of Sri Krishna.
But the true esoteric vision of the mahabhagavat is very different from realisation of deluded humanity. It is described in Bhagavat (10.35.9) and sequel, and also in Chaitanya-charitamrta (Madhya-lila, 17–55).
“When He (Sri Krishna Chaitanya) catches sight of a wood, it appears to Him in the likeness of Vrndavan; when He looks at a hill, He mistakes it for Govardhan.”
श्रीमद्भागवतं पुराणममलं यद्वैष्णवानां प्रियं
यस्मिन्पारमहंस्यमेकममलं ज्ञानं परं गीयते ।
तत्र ज्ञानविरागभक्तिसहितं नैष्कर्म्म्यमाविस्कृतं
तच्छृण्वन्सुपठन्विचारणपरो भक्त्या विमुच्येन्नरः ॥
srimad bhagavatam puranam amalam yad vaisnavanam priyam
yasmin paramahamsyam ekam amalam jnanam param giyate
tatra jnana-viraga-bhakti-sahitam naiskarmyam aviskrtam
tach chhrnvan supathan vicharana-paro bhaktya vimuchyen narah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 12.13.18)
A man may do well to rid himself of the shackles of the world, by listening to, reading well and deliberation of the Srimad Bhagavatam, the stainless Purana, which is so dear to the Vaisnavas, in which there is sung the only true and flawless knowledge of the first rate devotees of God, known as paramahamsas, and in which there has been discovered the complete cessation of fruit-bearing activities, attended with divine wisdom, apathy to the world, and devotion to God.
सर्व्वशास्त्रव्धिपोयूष सर्व्ववेदैकसत्फल ।
सर्व्वसिद्धान्तरत्नाढ्य सर्व्वलोकैकदृक्प्रद ॥
सर्व्वभागवतप्राण श्रीमद्भागवत प्रभो ।
कलिध्वान्तोदितादित्य श्रीकृष्णपरिवर्त्तित ॥
परमानन्दपाठाय प्रेमवर्ष्यक्षराय ते ।
सर्व्वदा सर्व्वसेव्याय श्रीकृष्णाय नमोऽस्तु मे ॥
मदेकबन्धो मत्सङ्गिन्मद्गुरो मन्महाधन ।
मन्निस्तारक मद्भाग्य मदानन्द नमोऽस्तु ते ॥
हा न मुञ्च कदाचिन्मां प्रेम्णा हृत्कण्ठयोः स्फुर ॥
sarva-bhagavata-prana srimad-bhagavata prabho
paramananda-pathaya prema-varsy-aksaraya te
sarvada sarva-sevyaya sri-krsnaya namo ’stu me
mad-eka-bandho mat-sangin mad-guro man-mahadhana
man-nistaraka mad-bhagya mad-ananda namo ’stu te
ha na muncha kadachin mam premna hrt-kanthayoh sphura
(Sri Sri Krsna-lila-stava: 107)
[“O nectar from the ocean of all of the scriptures, O divine fruit of all of the Vedas, O you who are adorned with the jewels of all siddhanta, O sole giver of vision to all souls, O life of all devotees, O Srimad Bhagavatam, O Lord, O sun arisen in the darkness of Kali-yuga, O return of Sri Krishna, O you who are the greatest joy to read, O you whose letters shower divine love, O you who are worshippable to everyone, O Sri Krishna Himself, I eternally bow to you.
“My only friend, my companion, my teacher, my greatest wealth, my deliverer, my good fortune, my joy, I bow to you.
O giver of virtue to the virtueless, O uplifter of the most lowly, may you never abandon me. May you manifest with divine love within my heart and throat.”]
piyatam piyatam nityam gahyatam gahyatam muda
pluyatam pluyatam svairam dharyatam hrdaye sada
[“May you be drunk constantly. May you be sung with joy. May it be swam within unreservedly. May you be held with the heart forever.”]
Born in 1838 in Bengal, educated in the British school system, and deeply familiar with American and English literature, Thakur Bhakti Vinod, the nineteenth century Vyas, was eminently qualified to introduce the ancient teachings of the Bhagavat to the modern Western reader.
His penetrating studies of both the religious classics of the West and the important sacred writings of India’s saints was tempered by his broad spiritual vision. While Emerson and Thoreau searched the pages of the Vedas and Upanisads for a glimpse of Absolute Truth, Thakur Bhakti Vinod, witnessing the gradual extinction of Vedic culture, worked to preserve India’s spiritual tradition and liteature. From 1849 to 1907, he edited, composed, and published more than 100 books in Sanskrit, Bengali, and English, including two different editions of Bhagavad-gita, his definite commentary on Chaitanya-charitamrta, as well as numerous original works.
One of his contemporaries in the Bengali literary renaissance of the late nineteenth century remarked of Thakur Bhakti Vinod, “When I used to dress as a European and when I comprehended everything from Europe that was to be known and understood, at that time Bhakti Vinod caused us to know what bhakti (devotion) is. Upon reading and studying the books of Bhakti Vinod, one is able to understand the reason for his coming to this world. His place in the kingdom of literature as we know it is unexcelled. When his literary works were published, the following used to come to mind: from where are these brilliant bolts of lightning coming?”
3. This is gathered from what Ram Mohan Ray told the public in the prefaces to the three dissertations which he wrote about the precepts of Jesus as compiled by him from the Gospels and in answer to Dr. Marshman, the Serampore missionary.
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined
Who went to see the elephant
(Though all of them were blind)
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The first approached the elephant
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The second, feeling of the tusk
Cried, “Ho, what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “The elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The fourth reached out an eager hand
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain!” quoth he:
“’Tis clear enough the elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most:
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope
Than seizing of the swinging tail
That fell within his scope
“I see,” quoth he, “the elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what the others mean
And prate about an elephant
Not one of them has seen!
मायावादमसच्छास्त्रं प्रच्छन्नंबौद्धमुच्यते ।
मयैव विहितं देवि कलौ ब्राह्मण-मूर्त्तिना ॥
mayavadam asach-chhastram prachchhannam bauddham uchyate
mayaiva vihitam devi kalau brahmana-murtina
(Padma-purana, Uttara-khanda: 25.7)
“Mayavad philosophy is Buddhism in disguise and I (the Lord of tama-guna) have given expression to it in the shape of a brahman, meaning Sankar Acharya.”
भुक्ति मुक्तिस्पृहा यावत्पिशाची हृदि वर्त्तते ।
तावद्भक्तिसुखस्यात्र कथमब्युदयो भवेत् ॥
bhukti-mukti-sprha yavat pisachi hrdi vartate
tavad bhakti-sukhasyatra katham abyudayo bhavet
दीयमानं न गृह्णन्ति विना मत्सेवनं जनाः ॥
salokya-sarsti-samipya-sarupyaikatvam apy uta
diyamanam na grhnanti vina mat-sevanam janah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 3.29.13)
“God offers all sorts of happiness to His servants, but they do not want anything except His holy service.”
12. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard wordsand tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today. ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
न तथास्य भवेन्मोहो बन्धश्चान्यप्रसङ्गतः ।
योषित्सङ्गाद् यथा पुंसो यथा तत्सङ्गिसङ्गतः ॥
na tathasya bhaven moho bandhas chanya-prasangatah
yosit-sangad yatha pumso yatha tat-sangi-sangatah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 3.31.35)
“The company of a woman or that of a man who cultivated friendship with woman with an immoral heart is very injurious to the man of a religious temperament.”
मन्मायामोहितधियःपुरुषः पुरुषर्षभ ।
श्रेयो वदन्त्यनेकान्तं यथाकर्म्म यथारुचि ॥
man-maya-mohita-dhiyah purusah purusarsabha
sreyo vadanty anekantam yatha-karma yatha-ruchi
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 11.14.9)
15. The Eastern saviour and foremost teacher of the Bhagavat, the greatest apostle of love of God and father of congregational chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord, Sri Chiatanya Mahaprabhu, demonstrated the inner meaning of the Bhagavat through His divine life and precepts and heralded it as the natural commentary on the Vedanta. It was His wish that the Bhagavat be taught in every town and village on the globe.