The Goal of Vedānta Study
It is concluded that Lord Kṛṣṇa, or Viṣṇu, is not of this material world. He belongs to the spiritual world. One who considers Him to be a demigod of the material world is a great offender and blasphemer. Lord Viṣṇu is not subject to perception by material senses, nor can He be realized by mental speculation. Unlike in the material world, where there is always a difference between the body and the soul, there is no difference between the body and soul of the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu.
Material things are enjoyed by the living entities because the living entities are superior in quality whereas material nature is inferior. Thus the superior nature, the living entities, can enjoy the inferior nature, matter. Because Lord Viṣṇu is in no way touched by matter, He has no tendency to enjoy material nature the way the living entities do. The living entities cannot attain knowledge of Viṣṇu by enjoying their habits of mental speculation. The infinitesimal living entities are not the enjoyers of Viṣṇu, but they are enjoyed by Viṣṇu. Only the greatest offender thinks that Viṣṇu is enjoyed. The greatest blasphemy is to consider Viṣṇu and the living entity on the same level.
The Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, is compared to a blazing fire, and the innumerable living entities are compared to sparks emanating from that fire. Although both the Supreme Lord and the living entities are qualitatively fire, there is yet a distinction. Viṣṇu, the Supreme, is infinite, whereas the living entities, which are but sparks, are infinitesimal. The infinitesimal living entities are emanations from the original infinite spirit. In their constitutional position as infinitesimal spirits, there is no trace of matter.
The living entities are not as great as Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu, who is beyond this material creation. Even Śaṅkarācārya accepts Nārāyaṇa to be beyond the material creation. Since neither Viṣṇu nor the living entity are of the material creation, someone may inquire, “Why were the small particles of spirit created at all?” The answer is that the Supreme Absolute Truth is complete in His perfection when He is both infinite and infinitesimal. If He were simply infinite but not infinitesimal, He would not be perfect. The infinite portion is the viṣṇu-tattva, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the infinitesimal portion is the living entity.
Due to the infinite desires of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the spiritual world exists, and due to the infinitesimal desires of the living entity, the material world exists. When the infinitesimal living entities are engaged in trying to fulfill their infinitesimal desires for material enjoyment, they are called jīva-śakti, but when they are dovetailed with the infinite, they are called liberated souls. There is no need to ask, therefore, why God created the infinitesimal portions: they are simply the complementary side of the Supreme. It is doubtlessly essential for the infinite to have infinitesimal portions which are inseparable parts and parcels of the Supreme Soul. Because the living entities are infinitesimal parts and parcels of the Supreme, there is a reciprocation of feelings between the infinite and the infinitesimal. Had there been no infinitesimal living entities, the Supreme Lord would have been inactive, and there would not be variegatedness in spiritual life. There would be no meaning to a king if there were no subjects, and there would be no meaning to the Supreme God if there were no infinitesimal living entities. How can there be meaning to the word “lord” if there is no one to rule? The conclusion is that the living entities are expansions of the energy of the Supreme Lord and that the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, is the energetic.
In all Vedic literatures, including the Bhagavad-gītā and Viṣṇu Purāṇa, much evidence is given to distinguish between the energy and the energetic. In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.4) it is clearly stated that earth, water, fire, air and ether (the five gross elements of the material world) and mind, intelligence and false ego (the three subtle elements) are the Lord’s energies. All material nature is divided into these eight elements, which together comprise His inferior nature, or energy. Another name for this inferior nature is māyā, or illusion. Beyond these eight inferior elements is His superior energy, which is called parā-prakṛti. This parā-prakṛti comprises the living entities, who are found in great numbers throughout the material world. The purport is that the Supreme Lord is the Absolute Truth, the energetic, and that as such He has energies. When one of His energies is not properly manifested, or when it is covered by some shadow, it is called māyā-śakti. The material cosmic manifestation is a product of that māyā-śakti.
The living entities are factually beyond this covered, inferior energy. They have their pure spiritual existence, their pure identity and their pure mental activities – all beyond the manifestation of this material cosmos. Although the living entity’s mind, intelligence and identity are beyond the range of this material world, when he enters into this material world due to his desire to lord it over matter, his original mind, intelligence and body become covered by the material energy. When he is again free of the covering of this material, inferior energy, he is called liberated. When he is liberated he has no false ego, but his real ego again comes into existence. Foolish mental speculators think that after liberation one’s identity is lost, but that is not so. Because the living entity is eternally part and parcel of God, when he is liberated he revives his original, eternal, part-and-parcel identity. The realization of ahaṁ brahmāsmi (“I am spirit, not this body”) does not mean that the living entity loses his identity. At the present moment a person may consider himself to be matter, but in his liberated state he will understand that he is not matter but spirit soul, part of the infinite. To become Kṛṣṇa conscious, or spiritually conscious, and to engage in the transcendental loving service of Kṛṣṇa are signs of the liberated stage.
In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.7.61) it is clearly stated:
viṣṇu-śaktiḥ parā prokta
kṣetra-jñākhyā tathā parā
tṛtīyā śaktir iṣyate
“The energy of the Supreme Lord is divided into three: parā, kṣetra-jña and avidyā.” The parā energy is actually the energy of the Supreme Lord Himself, the kṣetra-jña energy is the living entity, and the avidyā energy is the material world, or māyā. It is called avidyā, or ignorance, because under the spell of this material energy one forgets his actual position and his relationship with the Supreme Lord. The conclusion is that the living entities represent one of the energies of the Supreme Lord. As infinitesimal parts and parcels of the Supreme, they are called jīvas. If the jīvas are artificially placed on the same level with the infinite Supreme because both of them are Brahman, or spirit, then bewilderment will certainly be the result.
Generally Māyāvādī philosophers are perplexed before a learned Vaiṣṇava because the Māyāvādīs cannot explain the cause of bondage of the living entities. They simply say, “It is due to ignorance,” but they cannot explain how the living entities can be covered by ignorance if they are supreme. The actual reason is that the living entities, although qualitatively one with the Supreme, are infinitesimal, not infinite. Had they been infinite, there would have been no possibility of their being covered by ignorance. Because the living entity is infinitesimal, he can be covered by an inferior energy. The foolishness and ignorance of the Māyāvādīs are revealed when they try to explain how the infinite can be covered by ignorance. It is offensive to attempt to qualify the infinite by arguing that He is subject to the spell of ignorance.
Although Śaṅkara attempted to cover the Supreme Lord by his Māyāvāda philosophy, he was simply following the order of the Supreme Lord. It should be understood that his teachings were a timely necessity but not a permanent fact. In the Vedānta-sūtra the distinction between the energy and the energetic is accepted from the very beginning. The second aphorism of the Vedānta-sūtra – janmādy asya yataḥ – clearly states that the Supreme Absolute Truth is the source of all emanations. Thus the emanations are the energy of the Supreme, whereas the Supreme Himself is the energetic. Śaṅkara has falsely argued that if the transformation of energy is accepted, the Supreme Absolute Truth cannot remain immutable. But this is not true. Despite the fact that unlimited energies are always being generated, the Supreme Absolute Truth remains always the same. He is not affected by the emanation of unlimited energies. Śaṅkarācārya has therefore incorrectly established his theory of illusion.
Rāmānujācārya has discussed this point very nicely: “One may argue, ‘Since there was only one Absolute Truth before the creation of this material world, how is it possible that the living entities emanated from Him? If He were alone, how could He have produced or generated the infinitesimal living entities?’ In answer to this question, the Vedas state that everything is generated from the Absolute Truth, everything is maintained by the Absolute Truth and, after annihilation, everything enters into the Absolute Truth. This statement from the Upaniṣads makes it clear that when the living entities are liberated they enter into the supreme existence without changing their original constitutional position.”
We must always remember that the Supreme Lord has His creative function and that the infinitesimal living entities have their creative functions also. It is not that their creative function is lost when they are liberated and enter into the Supreme after the dissolution of the material body. On the contrary, the creative function of the living entity is properly manifested in the liberated state. If the living entity’s activities are manifest even when he is materially conditioned, then how is it possible for his activities to stop when he attains liberation? The living entity’s entering the state of liberation may be compared to a bird entering a tree, or an animal entering the forest, or a plane entering the sky. In no case are activities stopped.
When explaining the second aphorism of the Vedānta-sūtra, Śaṅkara has most unceremoniously tried to explain that Brahman, or the Supreme Absolute Truth, is impersonal. He has also cunningly tried to switch the doctrine of by-products into the doctrine of change. For the Supreme Absolute Truth, there is no change. It is simply that a by-product results from His inconceivable powers of action. In other words, a relative truth – a by-product – is produced out of the Supreme Truth. For example, when a chair is produced out of crude wood, it is said that a by-product is produced. The Supreme Absolute Truth, Brahman, is immutable, and when we find a by-product – the living entity or this cosmic manifestation – it is a transformation of the Supreme’s energies, or a by-product of the Supreme. It is like milk being transformed into yogurt. In this way, if we study the living entities in the cosmic manifestation, it will appear that they are not different from the original Absolute Truth, but from the Vedic literature we understand that the Absolute Truth has varieties of energy and that the living entities and the cosmic manifestation are but a demonstration of His energies. The energies are not separate from the energetic; therefore the living entity and cosmic manifestation are inseparable truths, part of the Absolute Truth. Such a conclusion regarding the Absolute Truth and the relative truth should be acceptable to any sane man.
The Supreme Absolute Truth has His inconceivable potency, out of which this cosmic manifestation has been produced. In other words, the Supreme Absolute Truth supplies the ingredients, and the living entity and cosmic manifestation are the by-products. In the Taittirīya Upaniṣad it is clearly stated, yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante: “The Absolute Truth is the original reservoir of all ingredients, and this material world and its living entities are produced from those ingredients.”
Less intelligent persons who cannot understand this doctrine of by-products cannot grasp how the cosmic manifestation and the living entity are simultaneously one with and different from the Absolute Truth. Not understanding this, one concludes that the doctrine of by-products implies that the Absolute Truth itself is transformed. Unnecessarily fearing this, one then concludes that this cosmic manifestation and the living entity are false. Śaṅkarācārya gives the example of a rope being mistaken for a snake, and sometimes the example of mistaking an oyster shell for gold is cited, but surely such arguments are ways of cheating. As mentioned in the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, the examples of mistaking a rope for a snake and an oyster shell for gold have their proper applications and can be understood as follows. The living entity in his original constitutional position is pure spirit. When a human being identifies himself with the material body, his misidentification is like mistaking a rope for a snake, or an oyster shell for gold. The doctrine of illusory transformation of state is accepted when one thing is mistaken for another. Actually the body is not the living entity, but according to the doctrine of illusory transformation of state one accepts the body as the living entity. Every conditioned soul is undoubtedly contaminated by this doctrine of illusory transformation of state.
The conditioned state of the living entity is his diseased condition. Originally the living entity and the original cause of this cosmic manifestation exist outside the state of transformation. But mistaken thoughts and arguments can overcome a person when he forgets the inconceivable energies of the Supreme Lord. Even in the material world there are many examples of inconceivable energy. The sun has been producing unlimited energy from time immemorial, and so many by-products result from the sun; yet there is no change in the heat and temperature of the sun itself. If the sun, despite being a material product, can maintain its original temperature and yet produce so many by-products, is it difficult to understand that the Supreme Absolute Truth remains unchanged in spite of producing so many by-products by His inconceivable energy? Thus there is no question of transformation as far as the Supreme Absolute Truth is concerned.
In Vedic literatures there is information of a material object called a “touchstone,” which, simply by touch, can transform iron into gold. The touchstone can produce an unlimited quantity of gold and yet remain unchanged. Only in the state of ignorance can one accept the Māyāvāda conclusion that this cosmic manifestation and the living entities are false or illusory. No sane man would attempt to impose ignorance and illusion upon the Supreme Absolute Truth, who is absolute in everything. There is no possibility of change, ignorance or illusion in Him. The Supreme Brahman, the Supreme Absolute Truth, is transcendental, completely different from all material conceptions, and full of inconceivable potencies. The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad confirms that the Supreme Absolute Personality of Godhead is full of inconceivable energies and that no one else possesses such energies.
It is only by misunderstanding the inconceivable energies of the Supreme that one may conclude that the Supreme Absolute Truth is impersonal. Such a deluded conclusion is experienced by a living being when he is in an acute stage of disease. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.33.3) there is a clear statement that the supreme ātmā, the Lord, has inconceivable and innumerable potencies. It is also stated in Brahma-saṁhitā (5.5) that the Supreme Spirit has many variegated and inconceivable energies. Nor should one think that there is any possibility of ignorance existing in the Absolute Truth. Ignorance and knowledge are conceptions in this world of duality, but in the Absolute there cannot be any ignorance. It is simply foolishness to consider that the Absolute is covered by ignorance. If the Absolute Truth could be covered by ignorance, how could it be said to be Absolute?
Understanding the inconceivable energies of the Absolute is the only solution to the question of duality. This is because duality arises from the inconceivable energies of the Absolute. By His inconceivable energies, the Supreme Absolute Truth can remain unchanged and yet produce this cosmic manifestation with all its living entities, just as a touchstone can produce unlimited quantities of gold and yet remain unchanged. Because the Absolute Truth has such inconceivable energies, the material quality of ignorance cannot pertain to Him. The true variegatedness which exists in the Absolute Truth is a product of His inconceivable energies. Indeed, it can be safely concluded that this cosmic manifestation is but a by-product of His inconceivable energies. Once we accept the inconceivable energies of the Supreme Lord, we will find that there is no duality at all. The expansion of the energies of the Supreme Lord is as true as the Supreme Lord Himself. But despite all the variegated manifestations of the Supreme Lord’s energies, there is no question of transformation for the Supreme Lord Himself. Once again the example of the touchstone can be cited: in spite of producing unlimited quantities of gold, the touchstone remains the same. (We therefore hear some sages say that the Supreme is the “ingredient cause” of this cosmic manifestation.)
Also, the example of the rope and the snake is not irregular. When we accept a rope to be a snake, it is to be understood that we have experienced a snake previously. Otherwise, how can the rope be mistaken for a snake? Thus the conception of a snake is not untrue or unreal in itself. It is the false identification that is untrue or unreal. When, by mistake, we consider the rope to be a snake, that is our ignorance. But the very idea of a snake is not in itself ignorance. Similarly, when we accept a mirage in the desert to be water, there is no question of water being a false concept. Water is a fact, but it is a mistake to think that there is water in the desert.
Thus this cosmic manifestation is not false, as Śaṅkarācārya maintains. Actually, there is nothing false here. It is because of ignorance that the Māyāvādīs say this world is false. The conclusion of the Vaiṣṇava philosophy is that this cosmic manifestation is a by-product of the inconceivable energies of the Supreme Lord.
The principal word in the Vedas – praṇava, or oṁ-kāra – is the sound representation of the Supreme Lord. Therefore oṁ-kāra should be considered the supreme sound. But Śaṅkarācārya has falsely preached that the phrase tat tvam asi is the supreme vibration. Oṁ-kāra is the reservoir of all the energies of the Supreme Lord. Śaṅkara is wrong in maintaining that tat tvam asi is the supreme vibration of the Vedas, for tat tvam asi is only a secondary vibration. Tat tvam asi suggests only a partial representation of the Vedas. In several verses of the Bhagavad-gītā (8.13, 9.17, 17.24) the Lord has given importance to oṁ-kāra. Similarly, oṁ-kāra is given importance in the Atharva Veda and the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. In his Bhagavat-sandarbha, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has given great importance to oṁ-kāra: “Oṁ-kāra is the most confidential sound representation of the Supreme Lord.” The sound representation or name of the Supreme Lord is as good as the Supreme Lord Himself. By vibrating such sounds as oṁ-kāra or Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, one can be delivered from the contamination of this material world. Because such vibrations of transcendental sound can deliver a conditioned soul, they are known as tāraka-mantras.
That the sound vibration of the Supreme Lord is identical with the Supreme Lord is confirmed in the Nārada Pañcarātra:
vyaktaṁ hi bhagavān eva
“When the transcendental sound is vibrated by a conditioned soul, the Supreme Lord is present on his tongue.” In the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad it is said that when oṁ-kāra is chanted, one attains perfect spiritual vision. In other words, in spiritual vision, or the spiritual world, there is nothing but oṁ-kāra. Unfortunately, Śaṅkara has abandoned this chief word, oṁ-kāra, and has whimsically accepted tat tvam asi as the supreme vibration of the Vedas. By accepting such a secondary vibration and leaving aside the principal vibration, he has given up the direct interpretation of the scripture in favor of his own indirect interpretation.
Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya has unceremoniously obscured the Kṛṣṇa consciousness described in the puruṣa Vedānta-sūtra by manufacturing an indirect interpretation and abandoning the direct interpretation. Unless we take all the statements of the Vedānta-sūtra as self-evident, there is no point in studying the Vedānta-sūtra. Interpreting the aphorisms of the Vedānta-sūtra according to one’s own whim is the greatest disservice to the self-evident Vedas.
As far as the oṁ-kāra (praṇava) is concerned, it is considered to be the sound incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As such, oṁ-kāra is eternal, unlimited, transcendental, supreme and indestructible. He (oṁ-kāra) is the beginning, middle and end, and He is beginningless as well. When one understands oṁ-kāra as such, he becomes immortal. One should thus know oṁ-kāra as a representation of the Supreme situated in everyone’s heart. One who understands oṁ-kāra and Viṣṇu as being one and the same and all-pervading never laments in the material world, nor does he remain a śūdra.
Although He (oṁ-kāra) has no material form, He is unlimitedly expanded and has unlimited form. By understanding oṁ-kāra one can become free from the duality of the material world and attain absolute knowledge. Therefore oṁ-kāra is the most auspicious representation of the Supreme Lord. Such is the description given by the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. One should not foolishly interpret an Upaniṣadic description and say that it is because the Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot appear Himself in this material world in His own form that He sends His sound representation (oṁ-kāra) instead. Due to such a false interpretation, oṁ-kāra has come to be considered something material, and consequently oṁ-kāra is misunderstood and eulogized as being simply an exhibition or symbol of the Lord. Actually oṁ-kāra is as good as any other incarnation of the Supreme Lord.
The Lord has innumerable incarnations, and oṁ-kāra is one of them, in the form of a transcendental syllable. As Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.17): “Among vibrations, I am the syllable oṁ.” This means that oṁ-kāra is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa. Impersonalists, however, give more importance to oṁ-kāra than to the Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. But the fact is that any representational incarnation of the Supreme Lord is nondifferent from Him. Such an incarnation or representation is as good spiritually as the Supreme Lord. Oṁ-kāra is therefore the ultimate representation of all the Vedas. Indeed, the Vedic mantras or hymns have transcendental value because they are prefixed by the syllable oṁ. The Vaiṣṇavas interpret oṁ-kāra, a combination of the letters a, u and m, as follows: The letter a indicates Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the letter u indicates Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, Kṛṣṇa’s eternal consort, and the letter m indicates the living entity, the eternal servitor of the Supreme Lord. Śaṅkara has not given such importance to oṁ-kāra. But such importance is given in the Vedas, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata, from beginning to end. Thus the glories of the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are declared.