Talks with Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya
When Lord Caitanya met Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya at Jagannātha Purī, the Bhaṭṭācārya, being the greatest logician of the day, wanted to teach the Lord Vedānta philosophy. Since the Bhaṭṭācārya was an elderly man, the age of Lord Caitanya’s father, He took compassion on the young sannyāsī and requested Him to learn the Vedānta-sūtra from him. Otherwise, the Bhaṭṭācārya maintained, it would be difficult for the youthful Lord Caitanya to continue as a sannyāsī. When the Lord agreed, the Bhaṭṭācārya began to teach Him in the temple of Jagannātha. The Bhaṭṭācārya spoke to the Lord about the Vedānta-sūtra continually for seven days, and the Lord heard him without speaking a word. On the eighth day the Bhaṭṭācārya said, “You have been hearing the Vedānta-sūtra from me for the past week, but You have not asked any questions, nor have You indicated whether I am explaining it nicely. So I cannot tell whether You are understanding me or not.”
“I am a fool,” the Lord replied. “I have no capacity to study the Vedānta-sūtra, but since you asked Me to hear you, I am trying to listen. I am simply listening to you because you said that it is the duty of every sannyāsī to hear the Vedānta-sūtra. But as far as your explanation is concerned – that I cannot understand.” Thus the Lord indicated that in the Māyāvādī sampradāya there are many so-called sannyāsīs who, even though illiterate and unintelligent, hear the Vedānta-sūtra from their spiritual master just as a matter of formality. Although they listen, they do not understand anything. As far as Lord Caitanya was concerned, the reason He said He did not understand the explanation of the Bhaṭṭācārya was not because it was too difficult for Him to understand but because He did not approve of the Māyāvādī interpretation.
When the Lord said that He was an uneducated fool and could not follow the expositions, the Bhaṭṭācārya replied: “If You do not follow what I am saying, why don’t You inquire? Why do You simply sit silently? It appears that You do have something to say about my explanations.”
“My dear sir,” the Lord replied, “as far as the Vedānta-sūtra itself is concerned, I can understand the meaning quite well. But I cannot understand your explanations. There is nothing difficult about understanding the meaning of the original aphorisms of the Vedānta-sūtra, but the way you explain them obscures the real meaning. You do not elucidate the direct meaning but imagine something and thus obscure the true meaning. I think that you have a particular doctrine you are trying to expound through the aphorisms of the Vedānta-sūtra.”
According to the Muktikā Upaniṣad, there are 108 Upaniṣads. Among these are the (1) Īśa, (2) Kena, (3) Kaṭha, (4) Praśna, (5) Muṇḍaka, (6) Māṇḍūkya, (7) Taittirīya, (8) Aitareya, (9) Chāndogya, (10) Bṛhad-āraṇyaka, (11) Brahma, (12) Kaivalya, (13) Jābāla, (14) Śvetāśvatara, (15) Haṁsa, (16) Āruṇeya, (17) Garbha and (18) Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣad. The 108 Upaniṣads contain all knowledge about the Absolute Truth. Sometimes people ask why Vaiṣṇavas use 108 prayer beads for chanting the holy names. We think it is because there are 108 Upaniṣads containing full knowledge of the Absolute Truth. On the other hand, some Vaiṣṇava transcendentalists think that the 108 beads represent the 108 companions of Lord Kṛṣṇa in His rāsa dance.
Lord Caitanya protested against misinterpretations of the Upaniṣads, rejecting any explanation which did not give their direct meaning. The direct interpretation is called abhidhā-vṛtti, whereas the indirect interpretation is called lakṣaṇā-vṛtti. The indirect interpretation serves no purpose. There are four kinds of understanding: (1) direct understanding (pratyakṣa), (2) hypothetical understanding (anumāna), (3) historical understanding (aitihya) and (4) understanding through sound (śabda). Of these four, understanding from the Vedic scriptures, the sound representations of the Absolute Truth, is the best method. Traditional Vedic students accept understanding through sound to be the best.
The stool and bone of any living entity are considered to be impure according to the Vedic literature, yet the same Vedic literature asserts that cow dung and conch shells are very pure. Apparently these statements are contradictory, but because cow dung and conch shells are considered pure by the Vedas, they are accepted as pure by the followers of the Vedas, without argument. If we try to understand the statements by indirect interpretation, creating some hypothesis, then we challenge the evidential authority of the Vedic statements. In other words, Vedic statements cannot be accepted according to our imperfect interpretations; they must be accepted as they are. If they are not accepted in this way, there is no authority in the Vedic statements.
According to Lord Caitanya, those who try to give some personal interpretation of Vedic statements are not at all intelligent. They mislead their followers by inventing their own interpretations. In India there is a class of men known as Ārya-samājists, who say that they accept the original Vedas only and reject all other Vedic literature. The motive of these people, however, is to give their own interpretation. According to Lord Caitanya, such interpretations are not to be accepted. They are simply not Vedic. Lord Caitanya said that the Vedic statements of the Upaniṣads are like sunlight. Everything is clear and very distinct when it is seen in the sunlight; the statements of the Vedas are similarly clear and distinct. The Māyāvādī philosophers simply cover the sunlight with the cloud of their misinterpretation.
Lord Caitanya then said that all the Vedic statements of the Upaniṣads aim at the ultimate truth, known as Brahman. The word Brahman means “the greatest,” and “the greatest” should immediately be understood to refer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the source of all emanations. Unless the greatest possesses six opulences in full, he cannot be called the greatest. The greatest is therefore the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In other words, the Supreme Brahman is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the Bhagavad-gītā (10.12), the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, is accepted by Arjuna as the Supreme Brahman. The conceptions of the impersonal Brahman and the localized Supersoul are contained within the understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Whenever we speak of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we add the word śrī, indicating that He is full with six opulences. This means that He is eternally a person; if He were not a person, the six opulences could not be present in fullness. Therefore, whenever it is said that the Supreme Absolute Truth is impersonal, what is meant is that His personality is not material. To distinguish His transcendental body from material bodies, some philosophers have explained Him as having no material personality. In other words, His material personality is denied and His spiritual personality is established. In the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (3.19) this is clearly explained:
apāṇi-pādo javano grahītā
paśyaty acakṣuḥ sa śṛṇoty akarṇaḥ
sa vetti vedyaṁ na ca tasyāsti vettā
tam āhur agryaṁ puruṣaṁ mahāntam
“The Absolute Truth has no material legs and hands, but He has spiritual hands by which He accepts everything offered to Him. He has no material eyes, but He has spiritual eyes by which He can see everything and anything. He has no material ears, but He can hear everything and anything with His spiritual ears. Having perfect senses, He knows past, future and present. Indeed, He knows everything, but no one can understand Him, for by material senses He cannot be understood. Being the origin of all emanations, He is the supreme, the greatest, the Personality of Godhead.”
There are many similar Vedic hymns which definitely establish that the Supreme Absolute Truth is a person who is not of this material world. The Hayaśīrṣa-pañcarātra explains that although in each and every Upaniṣad the Supreme Brahman is first viewed as impersonal, at the end the personal form of the Supreme Lord is accepted. Another example is Śrī Īśopaniṣad, the fifteenth mantra of which runs as follows:
tat tvaṁ pūṣann apāvṛṇu
“O my Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, You are the maintainer of the whole universe. Everyone is sustained by Your mercy. Therefore devotional service unto You is the true religion of life. I am engaged in such devotional service, and so I request You to please maintain me and ever-increasingly engage me in Your transcendental service. You are the eternal form of sac-cid-ānanda, and Your effulgence is spread all over the creation, just like the sunshine. As the sun disc is covered by the glaring sunshine, so Your transcendental form is covered by the brahmajyoti. I desire to find You within that brahmajyoti. Therefore please remove this glaring effulgence.”
In this verse it is clearly stated that the eternal, blissful, cognizant form of the Supreme Lord is to be found within the glaring effulgence of the brahmajyoti, which emanates from the body of the Supreme Lord. Thus the personal body of the Lord is the source of the brahmajyoti, as confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (14.27). That the impersonal Brahman is dependent on the Supreme Personality is also stated in the Hayaśīrṣa-pañcarātra. In every other Vedic scripture, such as the Upaniṣads, whenever there is talk of the impersonal Brahman in the beginning, the Supreme Personality is finally established at the end. The Īśopaniṣad mantra we quoted above indicates that the Supreme Absolute Truth is both impersonal and personal eternally, but that His personal aspect is more important than the impersonal one.
According to a mantra in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad – yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante – this cosmic manifestation is an emanation from the Supreme Absolute Truth and it rests in the Supreme Absolute Truth. Thus the Absolute Truth has been called the ablative, causative and locative performer, and as such He must be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for these are symptoms of personality. As the ablative performer, He is the source of all thinking, feeling and willing in this cosmic manifestation. Without thinking, feeling and willing, there is no possibility of the arrangement and design of the cosmic manifestation. Then again, He is causative, for He is the original designer of the cosmos. And He is also locative: that is, everything is resting in His energy. These attributes are all clearly attributes of His personality.
In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (6.2.3), it is said that when the Supreme Personality of Godhead desires to become many, He glances over material nature. As also confirmed in Aitareya Upaniṣad (1.1.1), sa aikṣata: “The Lord glanced at material nature.” The cosmic manifestation did not exist before His glance; therefore His glance is not materially contaminated. His seeing power existed before the material creation; therefore His body is not material. His thinking, feeling and acting are all transcendental. In other words, it should be concluded that the mind by which the Lord thinks, feels and wills is transcendental, and that the eyes by which He glances over material nature are also transcendental. Since His transcendental body and all His senses existed before the material creation, the Lord also has a transcendental mind and transcendental thinking, feeling and willing. This is the conclusion of all Vedic literature.
The word Brahman is found everywhere throughout the Upaniṣads. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are all taken together as the Absolute Truth. Brahman and Paramātmā realization are considered stages toward the ultimate realization, which is realization of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the real conclusion of all Vedic literature.
Thus according to the evidences afforded by various Vedic scriptures, the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa is accepted as the ultimate goal of Brahman realization. The Bhagavad-gītā (7.7) confirms that there is nothing superior to Kṛṣṇa. Madhvācārya, one of the greatest ācāryas in Brahmā’s disciplic succession, has stated in his explanation of the Vedānta-sūtra that everything can be seen through the authorities of the scriptures. He has quoted a verse from the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa in which it is stated that the Ṛg Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, Atharva Veda, Mahābhārata, Pañcarātra and the original Rāmāyaṇa are actually Vedic evidence. The Purāṇas accepted by the Vaiṣṇavas are also considered Vedic evidence. Indeed, whatever is contained in that literature should be taken without argument as the ultimate conclusion, and all these literatures proclaim Kṛṣṇa to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead.