|Chapter 20: The Goal of Vedānta Study|
Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Teachings of Lord Caitanya
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 Śańkarācārya 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 is simply infinite and is not infinitesimal, He is not 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, there is existence in the spiritual world, and due to the infinitesimal desires of the living entity, there is existence in the material world. When the infinitesimal living entities are engaged in 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 is no meaning to a king if there are no subjects, and there is no meaning to the Supreme God if there are no infinitesimal living entities. How can there be meaning to the word "lord" if there is no one to overlord? The conclusion is that the living entities are considered to be expansions of the energy of the Supreme Lord, and the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, is the energetic.
In all Vedic literatures, including Bhagavad-gītā and Viṣṇu Purāṇa, much evidence is given to distinguish between the energy and the energetic. In Bhagavad-gītā (Bg. 7.4) it is clearly stated that earth, water, fire, air and ether are the five principal gross elements of the material world and that mind, intelligence and false ego are the three subtle elements. All material nature is divided into these eight elements which together comprise the inferior nature, or energy, of the Lord. Another name for this inferior nature is māyā, or illusion. Beyond these eight inferior elements there is a superior energy, which is called parā-prakṛti. That parā-prakṛti is the living entity, who is found in great numbers throughout the material world. He is indicated in Bhagavad-gītā (Bg. 7.5) as jīva-bhūtām. The purport is that the Supreme Lord is the Absolute Truth, the energetic, and as such He has His energies. When His energy 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 covered māyā-śakti.
The living entities are factually beyond this covered inferior energy. They have their pure spiritual existence and their pure identity, as well as their pure mental activities. All of them are 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 dominate matter, his original mind, intelligence and body become covered by the material energy. When he is again uncovered from these material or inferior energies, 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 ahaḿ brahmāsmi ("I am 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
[Cc. Madhya 6.154]
"The energy of the Supreme Lord is divided into three: parā, kṣetrajña and avidyā." The parā energy is actually the energy of the Supreme Lord Himself; the kṣetrajña 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, and 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 — for both of them are Brahman, or spirit — 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 why the living entities are covered by ignorance if they are supreme. The actual reason is that the living entities, although qualitatively one with the Supreme, are infinitesimal, and 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 is covered by an inferior energy. The foolishness and ignorance of the Māyāvādīs are revealed when they try to explain how it is the infinite is covered by ignorance. It is offensive to attempt to qualify the infinite as being subject to the spell of ignorance.
Although Śańkara was attempting to cover the Supreme Lord by his Māyāvādī 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. In that Vedānta-sūtra the first aphorism (janmādy asya [SB 1.1.1]) clearly explains that the Supreme Absolute Truth is the origin or source of all emanations. Thus the emanations are the energy of the Supreme, whereas the Supreme Himself is the energetic. Śańkara 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 energy is always being generated, the Supreme Absolute Truth remains always the same. He is not affected by the emanation of unlimited energies. Śańkarācārya has therefore incorrectly established his theory of illusion.
Rāmānujācārya has discussed this point very nicely: "If you argue that before the creation of this material world there was only one Absolute Truth, then how is it possible that the living entity 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. From this statement it is clear that the living entities enter into the supreme existence when they are liberated, and they do not change 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 is identity lost.
When explaining the first aphorism of the Vedānta-sūtra, Śańkara most unceremoniously tried to explain that Brahman, or the Supreme Absolute Truth, is impersonal. He also cunningly tried to switch the doctrine of by-product 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 is produced out of the Supreme Truth. 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, 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 Vedic literatures 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 cosmos has been manifested. In other words, the Supreme Absolute Truth is the ingredient, 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."
Unintelligent persons who cannot understand this doctrine of byproducts cannot grasp how the cosmic manifestation and the living entity are simultaneously one and different from the Absolute Truth. Not understanding this, one concludes, out of fear, that this cosmic manifestation and the living entity are false. Śańkarācārya 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 rope for a snake and the oyster for gold examples have their different 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, he may be said to be mistaking a rope for a snake, or an oyster shell for gold. The doctrine of transformation is accepted when one thing is mistaken for another. Actually the body is not the living entity, but the doctrine of transformation accepts the body as the living entity. Every conditioned soul is undoubtedly contaminated by this doctrine of transformation.
The conditional 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. However, 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. 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. Despite its being a material product, if the sun can maintain its original temperature and yet produce so many byproducts, is it difficult for the Supreme Absolute Truth to remain 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 product called "touchstone" which simply by touch can transform iron into gold. The touchstone can produce an unlimited quantity of gold and yet remain the same. Only in the state of ignorance can one accept the Māyāvādī conclusion that this cosmic manifestation and the living entities are false or illusory. No sane man would impose ignorance and illusion upon the Supreme Absolute Truth, who is absolute in everything. There is no possibility of change, ignorance or illusion being in Him. The Supreme Brahman is transcendental and completely different from all material conceptions. In the Supreme Absolute Truth there is every possible inconceivable energy existing. In the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad it is stated that the Supreme Absolute Personality of Godhead is full of inconceivable energies and that no one else possesses such energies.
By misunderstanding the inconceivable energies of the Supreme, one may falsely 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 also there are statements to the effect that the supreme ātmā, the Lord, has inconceivable and innumerable potencies. (Bhāg. 3.33.3) It is also stated in Brahma-sūtra 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 is no duality. It is simply foolishness to consider that the Absolute is covered by ignorance. If the Absolute Truth can possibly be covered by ignorance, how can it be said to be Absolute? Understanding the inconceivability of the Absolute is the only solution to the question of duality. This is because duality arises from the inconceivable energy 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 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 energy. 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 energy of the Supreme Lord is as true as the Supreme Lord. As far as the manifestation of the supreme energy is concerned, there is no question of transformation. The same example 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 or cause of this cosmic manifestation.
Actually the example of the rope and the snake is not completely 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 identity 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. When we accept a mirage to be water in the desert, 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 Śańkarācārya maintains. Actually there is nothing false here. The Māyāvādīs say that this world is false because of their ignorance. It is the conclusion of Vaiṣṇava philosophy that this cosmic manifestation is a by-product of the inconceivable energies of the Supreme Lord.
The principal word in the Vedas, praṇava oḿkāra, is the sound representation of the Supreme Lord. Therefore oḿkāra should be considered the supreme sound. However, Śańkarācārya has falsely preached that tat tvam asi are the supreme vibrations. Oḿkāra is the reservoir of all the energies of the Supreme Lord. Śańkara is wrong in maintaining that the words tat tvam asi are the supreme vibrations of the Vedas, for tat tvam asi are secondary words only. tat tvam asi suggests only a partial representation. In Bhagavad-gītā the Lord has in many places given importance to oḿkāra, (Bg. 8.13, 9.17, 17.24). Similarly, oḿkāra is given importance in the Atharva Veda and the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. In his Bhagavat-sandarbha, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says: "Oḿkāra 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 the sound of oḿkāra, or of 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 tāra, or deliverers.
That the sound vibration of the Supreme Lord is identical with the Supreme Lord is a fact. This is confirmed in the Nārada-pañcarātra:
vyaktaḿ hi bhagavān eva
"When the transcendental sound vibration is practiced by a conditioned soul, the Supreme Lord is present on his tongue." In the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad it is said that when oḿkāra is chanted, whatever is seen as material is seen perfectly as spiritual. In the spiritual world or in spiritual vision there is nothing but oḿkāra, or the one alternate, om. Unfortunately, Śańkara has abandoned this chief word, oḿkāra, and has whimsically accepted tat tvam asi as the supreme vibration of the Vedas. By accepting such a secondary word and leaving aside the principal vibration, he has given up a direct interpretation of the scripture in favor of his own indirect interpretation.
Śrīpāda Śańkarācārya 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 Vedānta-sūtra as self-evident, there is no point in studying Vedānta-sūtra. Interpreting the verses of Vedānta-sūtra according to one's own whim is the greatest disservice to the self-evident Vedas.
As far as the oḿkāra praṇava is concerned, it is considered to be the sound incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As such, oḿkāra is eternal, unlimited, transcendental, supreme and indestructible. He (oḿkāra) is the beginning, middle and end, and He is beginningless as well. When one understands oḿkāra as such, he becomes immortal. One should thus know oḿkāra as a representation of the Supreme situated in everyone's heart. One who understands oḿkāra 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 (oḿkāra) has no material form, He is unlimitedly expanded, and He has unlimited form. By understanding oḿkāra one can become free from the duality of the material world and attain absolute knowledge. Therefore oḿkāra is the most auspicious representation of the Supreme Lord. Such is the description given by Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. One should not foolishly interpret an Upaniṣadic description and say that because the Supreme Personality of Godhead "cannot" appear Himself in this material world in His own form, He sends His sound representation(oḿkāra) instead. Due to such a false interpretation, oḿkāra comes to be considered something material, and consequently oḿkāra is misunderstood and praised as being simply an exhibition or symbol of the Lord. Actually oḿkāra is as good as any other incarnation of the Supreme Lord.
The Lord has innumerable incarnations, and oḿkāra is one of them. As Kṛṣṇa states in Bhagavad-gītā: "Amongst vibrations, I am the syllable om." (Bg. 9.17) This means that oḿkāra is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa. Impersonalists, however, give more importance to oḿkāra than to the Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. The fact is, however, 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. Oḿkāra 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 om. The Vaiṣṇavas interpret oḿkāra as follows: by the letter O, Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is indicated; by the letter U, Kṛṣṇa's eternal consort Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is indicated; and by the letter M, the eternal servitor of the Supreme Lord, the living entity, is indicated. Śańkara has not given such importance to the oḿkāra. However, importance is given in the Vedas, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Purāṇas and in the Mahābhārata from beginning to end. Thus the glories of the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are declared.
Copyright © The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder Ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness