RTW 4.1

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His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada


The Fundamental Question Evades the Erudite Scholar

In the First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, in the very first verse of the first chapter, the highest truth has been propounded in these words:

janmādy asya yato 'nvayād itarataś cārtheṣv abhijñaḥ svarāṭ
tene brahma hṛdā ya ādi-kavaye muhyanti yat sūrayaḥ
tejo-vāri-mṛdāṁ yathā vinimayo yatra tri-sargo 'mṛṣā
(SB 1.1.1)

I meditate upon Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa because He is the Absolute Truth and the primeval cause of all causes of the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the manifested universes. He is directly and indirectly conscious of all manifestations, and He is independent because there is no other cause beyond Him. It is He only who first imparted the Vedic knowledge unto the heart of Brahmājī, the original living being. By Him even the great sages and demigods are placed into illusion, as one is bewildered by the illusory representations of water seen in fire, or land seen on water. Only because of Him do the material universes, temporarily manifested by the reactions of the three modes of nature, appear factual, although they are unreal. I therefore meditate upon Him, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is eternally existent in the transcendental abode, which is forever free from the illusory representations of the material world. I meditate upon Him, for He is the Absolute Truth.

After defining the Absolute Truth and expanding upon it in the Vedas, Purāṇas, and vast corollary literatures, Śrīla Vyāsadeva still felt discontented. His spiritual master, Devarṣi Nārada, finding his disciple so dejected, inspired him to go inwards, into in deep meditation. In that state he perceived the highest Absolute Truth, who is free from the slightest illusion. The verse quoted above reflects Śrīla Vyāsadeva's spiritual perception. Nārada instructed his disciple to reveal the nature of the Supreme Lord's transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes, paraphernalia, and associates. The result of Śrīla Vyāsadeva's efforts is the spotless Purāṇa, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.

Śrīla Vyāsadeva went to Badarikāśrama, and in the nearby place called Śamyāprāsa, went into samādhi and saw the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He also saw māyā, the divine potency of the Lord that deludes the conditioned souls. In this realized consciousness Śrīla Vyāsadeva described the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as fully independent and transcendental. This implies that there is no one superior to Him or equal to Him. In the material world Lord Brahmā is accepted as the highest personality among the living entities. But even Lord Brahmā, who is described here as the ādi-kavi, the original intelligent being, is subservient to the fully independent Supreme Lord. Indeed, it was the Supreme Lord who first imparted the Vedic knowledge unto Lord Brahmā.

What to speak of the ordinary mortals, even great sages and powerful demigods become totally bewildered in their efforts to know the Supreme Lord. The purport of the word dhīmahi - "I meditate upon" - is that only those who have perfected the chanting of the Gāyatrī mantra can understand the supremely independent Lord. Who is eligible to chant the Gāyatrī mantra? Those who are controlled by the modes of ignorance and passion can never chant the Gāyatrī mantra, what to speak of attaining perfection in chanting it. Only those who possess the qualities of a brāhmaṇa and are situated in the mode of goodness are eligible to chant the Gāyatrī mantra. Gradually, by constant chanting, they come to realize Parabrahman (the Supreme Brahman), or the Absolute Truth. Only then can they perceive the Supreme Personality of Godhead, along with His transcendental name, form, qualities, pastimes, and paraphernalia, as well as the Vaikuṇṭha planets and the Lord of the Vaikuṇṭha planets, Nārāyaṇa. And when one develops a taste for engaging properly in the Lord's transcendental service and realizes the sublime mellows of devotion, one can see Lord Vāsudeva, Kṛṣṇa.

Mundane philosophers who try to attain the Supreme through the ascending process of knowledge can never achieve their goal. The only result of such an attempt, which naturally confuses them, is that they become rooted to the misunderstanding that man is God and vice versa, thus clearing their way to hell. A few among them may have a moment's glimpse of transcendence, but end up concluding everything backwards. They fall prey to the erroneous impersonal principle.

To refute this impersonal conception of the Absolute, the previously quoted verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam unequivocally states that the Absolute Truth is a person. This transcendental personality is so powerful that He could impart the knowledge of the Vedas even to Lord Brahmā, who then went on to create the material universe. Lord Brahmā did not receive this extraordinary Vedic knowledge after creation but before he began the work of creation. The knowledge that existed before the mundane nature came into being is transcendental and is known as saṁvit. The Viṣṇu Purāṇa delves into the subjects of sandhinī, saṁvit, and hlādinī, the Lord's potencies of existence, knowledge, and pleasure. All together, these are known as the Lord's internal potency, or spiritual potency. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam also discusses the subject of the Lord's internal potency. This superior potency is quite different form the Lord's inferior, external potency, which is qualified by the three material modes. An example of the Lord's superior, spiritual potency is the jīvas. One who can understand that the jīvas are a product of the Lord's internal potency, not His external potency, can immediately grasp the difference between these two potencies.

Delusion is the perverted image of reality and is the hallmark of māyā, the Lord's external energy. This delusion is totally absent in His internal, spiritual potency. The jīva is a product of the Lord's superior, transcendental energy, but he becomes deluded into identifying his body as his self. Once this ignorance is dissipated, he can immediately understand the actual nature of the body. Illusion is possible on the mundane plane but never in the spiritual energy.

The variety visible in material nature is due to the influence of the Lord's spiritual energy. In other words, material nature is but a perverted reflection of spiritual energy. For example, sunlight is ever-existing, but when sunlight is reflected on water, there comes into being a new source of light that must accept the cycle of creation, maintenance, and annihilation. The original sun, of course, is not bound by such changes. This practical analogy helps us understand that the spiritual nature is transcendental to creation, maintenance, and annihilation, whereas the perverted reflection of the spiritual energy - the material nature - is bound by these three conditions. The material nature is illusory: sometimes it is there, and at other times it is not. When this illusory, temporary existence of "there and not there" is totally removed and in its place are manifested the name, form, qualities, associates, paraphernalia, and abode of the Lord, one is on the platform of satyaṁ param, the Absolute Truth, who is described here as nirasta-kuhakam, "forever free from the illusory representation of the material world."

The jīva has been referred to as the Lord's marginal potency. The jīva is unpredictable: sometimes he is under the material energy's control, and at other times under the spiritual energy's shelter. But the supreme, infallible Lord never comes under the sway of any of His energies: He forever remains the absolute autocrat, the master of all energies, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vāsudeva. All energies emanate from Him, and thus He is the supreme energetic principle. When the two words sva-rāṭ ("independent") and param ("supreme") are used to describe an entity, then He must be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the eternal cause of all causes. That the Supreme Lord never comes under the influence of māyā is confirmed elsewhere in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.11.38):

etad īśanam īśasya
prakṛti-stho 'pi tad-guṇaiḥ
na yujyate sadātma-sthair
yathā buddhis tad-āśrayā

This is the divinity of the Personality of Godhead: He is not affected by the qualities of material nature, even though He is in contact with them. Similarly, the devotees who have taken shelter of the Lord do not become influenced by the material qualities.

It is the Supreme Lord's special prerogative to descend to this material world and remain unaffected by it and detached from it. And like Him, His pure devotees also remain unattracted by the glare of the phenomenal world. As the Supreme Lord is eternal, liberated, and pure, so are His devotees, whatever situation they may be in. This can easily be understood through a simple example: technological advancement has added things like cinemas to the material attractions nature already has to offer, and yet, strangely, these illusory enticements have failed to attract genuine saints and hermits even to this day. And although we do see that some so-called modern saints and mendicants are addicted to cannabis and tobacco, even they are repulsed by many other modern sensual distractions. If the illusory material world holds little or no attraction for the Lord's devotees, how much less must the Lord Himself be attracted to it! Therefore, although out of ignorance one might claim that mere mortals are God, that does not change the reality - that man is always man and God is always God, and never otherwise.

Once one of the brahmacārīs of our āśrama met Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who is a spiritualist of sorts and an erudite scholar. Dr. Radhakrishnan is the vice-president of India as I write this essay. On meeting him, our brahmacārī received from him a copy of his Bhagavad-gītā as a gift. Dr. Radhakrishnan had translated this Gītā into English and written a commentary on it, and it sold well in the market for ten rupees in those days [1954].

The brahmacārī read the book and came to us a little dissatisfied, though the book itself was deeply esoteric. The reason for his dissatisfaction was that Dr. Radhakrishnan's writing lacked spiritual insight: in many places he had mishandled and misinterpreted the text, and thus he had made his book unacceptable to spiritualists in the line of pure devotion. This is a perfect example of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam's statement (1.1.1) that "by Him even the great sages and demigods are placed into illusion" (muhyanti yat sūrayaḥ). When the Lord so easily bewilders Lord Brahmā, Lord Śiva, Lord Indra, and other great universal controllers, it is not at all surprising that Dr. Radhakrishnan is placed into illusion.

The brahmacārī was especially shocked and hurt by Dr. Radhakrishnan's misinterpretation of Text 34 of Chapter 9, which appears in his book on page 254. He came to us very depressed, wanting to discuss this passage. The following words were found in the book:

It is not the personal Kṛṣṇa to whom we have to give ourselves up utterly but the Unborn, Beginningless, Eternal who speaks through Kṛṣṇa.

We have not the slightest intention of confronting a world-famous philosopher like Dr. Radhakrishnan with arguments, yet on the brahmacārī's repeated request we have to scrutinize the text and point out the discrepancies. We have great respect for Dr. Radhakrishnan, not only because he is the vice-president of our country but also because of his scholarship and his position as an erudite master of Hindu philosophy. Furthermore, he is faithful to the brahminical tradition he hails from and is a follower of the Māyāvāda school. Going by the oft-quoted dictum that it is better to have a learned enemy than a foolish friend, I feel encouraged in this matter. An intelligent opponent will present reasonable rebuttals, but an ignorant friend may bring about disaster with his floundering. Therefore we feel no compunction about strongly arguing against the points Dr. Radhakrishnan makes in his Bhagavad-gītā commentary.

A well-known Bengali saying goes, "After reading the whole Rāmāyaṇa, you want to know whose father Sītā is?" This question is ludicrous, since Sītā is Lord Rāma's wife, and thus such a query will naturally invite quips and laughter. We find the same absurdity in Dr. Radhakrishnan's English commentary on the Gītā. He writes that we do not have to surrender to the person Kṛṣṇa but to "the Unborn, Beginningless, Eternal" within Kṛṣṇa. This implies that Lord Kṛṣṇa and His "inner self" are two separate identities. According to Dr. Radhakrishnan, since there is a difference between Kṛṣṇa's body and His soul, we must surrender to Kṛṣṇa's soul and not His body. This new discovery in the field of religious philosophy reminds us of the "paṇḍita" of the Rāmāyaṇa referred to above. Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa's sole purpose in speaking the Bhagavad-gītā is to convince us to surrender to His lotus feet. Yet right at the outset Dr. Radhakrishnan is unwilling to accept this point. Lord Kṛṣṇa gives the central instruction in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.66):

sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.

Lord Kṛṣṇa spoke these words to Arjuna so that he would surrender to Him. The Sanskrit word śaraṇam in this Gītā text means "surrender." On page 62 of his "Introductory Essay", Dr. Radhakrishnan has also discussed the idea of surrender in some detail. He writes,

Prapatti [surrender] has the following accessories - good will to all (ānukūlyasya saṅkalpaḥ); (ii) absence of ill will (prātikūlyasya varjanam); (iii) faith that the Lord will protect (rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāsaḥ); (iv) resort to Him as savior (gopṛtve varanam); (v) a sense of utter helplessness (kārpaṇyam); (vi) complete surrender (ātma-nikṣepaḥ)."

These six limbs of surrender should be followed in relation to Kṛṣṇa, or Viṣṇu, because this instruction on the process of surrender appears in a Vaiṣṇava scripture. Dr. Radhakrishnan has translated the first limb (ānukūlyasya saṅkalpaḥ) as "good will to all." Question: Is it possible to surrender to everyone? Surrender should be directed toward the Supreme Lord alone. Dr. Radhakrishnan's proposal is impractical, and indeed impossible. Long before Dr. Radhakrishnan wrote his commentary, many realized spiritual preceptors, including the famous Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, explained that the words ānukūlyasya saṅkalpaḥ mean that one should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa, favorably. No genuine scholar would be willing to disregard all other spiritual authorities and accept Dr. Radhakrishnan's version.

When Dr. Radhakrishnan uses the words "faith in the Lord," he definitely refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By what logic does he say "Lord" but mean the impersonal Brahman? Arjuna certainly means the person Kṛṣṇa when he says (BG 2.7), śiṣyas te 'haṁ śādhi māṁ tvāṁ prapannam: "Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me." With these words he addresses Kṛṣṇa at the beginning of the Bhagavad-gītā. At this stage of the Gītā the impersonal Brahman is still to be discussed. When the subject of the impersonal Brahman is finally raised, Lord Kṛṣṇa unequivocally declares that He is the source of the impersonal Brahman. Sound logic says that one cannot surrender to something impersonal and formless. Those who are overly attached to the impersonal Brahman will find surrendering to this formless concept very painful and, indeed, impossible, and if they persist along this path they will end up surrendering to their wife, family, and relatives.