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From the instructions of Lord Caitanya to Sanātana Gosvāmī we can understand the science of God as it relates to God’s transcendental form, His opulences, and His devotional service. Indeed, everything will be explained to Sanātana Gosvāmī by the Lord Himself.
First Sanātana fell at the feet of the Lord and with great humility asked about his own real identity. “I was born in a lower family,” Sanātana said, “my associations are all abominable, and I am fallen, the most wretched of mankind. I was suffering in the dark well of material enjoyment, and I never learned the actual goal of my life. Indeed, I do not even know what is beneficial for me. Although in the mundane sphere I am what is known as a greatly learned man, I am in fact such a fool that I also think I am learned. You have accepted me as Your servant, and You have delivered me from the entanglement of material life. Now please tell me what my duty is in this liberated state.”
From this plea we can understand that liberation is not the final word in perfection. There must be activities in liberation. Sanātana clearly says, “You have saved me from the entanglement of material existence. Now, after liberation, what is my duty? Kindly explain it to me.” Sanātana further inquired, “Who am I? Why are the threefold miseries always giving me trouble? And finally, please tell me how I can be relieved from this material entanglement? I do not know how to question You about advancement in spiritual life, but I beg that You kindly, mercifully, let me know everything I should know.”
This is the process of accepting a spiritual master. One should approach a spiritual master, humbly submit to him and then inquire from him about one’s spiritual progress.
The Lord was pleased by Sanātana’s submissive behavior, and He replied, “You have already been blessed by Lord Kṛṣṇa, and therefore you know everything and are free from all the miseries of material existence. Yet even though due to your Kṛṣṇa consciousness you have naturally achieved the grace of Kṛṣṇa and are thus already conversant with everything, because you are a humble devotee you are asking Me to confirm what you have already realized. This is very nice.” These are the characteristics of a true devotee. In the Nāradīya Purāṇa it is said that by the grace of the Lord one who is very serious about developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness has his desire to understand Kṛṣṇa fulfilled very soon.
“You are a suitable person to protect the devotional service of the Lord,” Caitanya Mahāprabhu continued. “Therefore it is My duty to instruct you in the science of God, and I will explain everything to you, step by step.”
It is the duty of a disciple to inquire about his constitutional position when approaching a spiritual master. In conformity to that spiritual process, Sanātana has already asked, “What am I, and why am I suffering from the threefold miseries?” The threefold miseries are called ādhyātmika, ādhibhautika and ādhidaivika. The word ādhyātmika refers to those miseries caused by the body and mind. Sometimes the living entity suffers physically, and sometimes he is distressed mentally. Both are ādhyātmika miseries. We experience these miseries even in the womb of our mother. In general, there are many types of miseries that take advantage of the delicate human body and give us pain. Miseries inflicted by other living entities are called ādhibhautika. For example, bedbugs can make us miserable while we are sleeping. Cockroaches can also sometimes give us pain, and there are other living entities born on different planets who can cause us misery. As far as the ādhidaivika miseries are concerned, these originate with the demigods of the higher planets. For instance, we sometimes suffer from severe cold weather, from thunderbolts, or from earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts or other natural disasters. In any case, we are always suffering from one or more of these three kinds of miseries.
Sanātana’s inquiry was therefore an intelligent one. “What is the position of the living entities?” he asked. “Why are they always undergoing these three kinds of miseries?” Sanātana had admitted his weakness: Although he was known by the masses of people as a greatly learned man (and he actually was a highly learned Sanskrit scholar), and although he accepted this designation, he did not know what his constitutional position was or why he was subjected to the threefold miseries.
Approaching a spiritual master is not just a fashion but is a necessity for one who is seriously conscious of the material miseries and who wants to be free of them. It is the duty of such a person to approach a spiritual master. In this regard, we should note Arjuna’s similar circumstances in the Bhagavad-gītā. When he was perplexed by so many problems involving whether to fight or not, he accepted Lord Kṛṣṇa as his spiritual master. As with Lord Caitanya’s instructing Sanātana Gosvāmī, the Bhagavad-gītā is also a case of the supreme spiritual master instructing His disciple about the constitutional position of the living entity.
In the Bhagavad-gītā we are informed that the constitutional nature of the individual entity is spirit soul. He is not matter. As spirit soul, he is part and parcel of the Supreme Soul, the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. We also learn that it is the duty of the spirit soul to surrender to the Supreme Soul, for only then can he be happy. The last instruction of the Bhagavad-gītā is that the spirit soul should surrender completely unto the Supreme Soul, Kṛṣṇa, and in that way realize happiness.
Here also, Lord Caitanya, answering the questions of Sanātana, repeats the same truth. There is a difference, however. Here Lord Caitanya does not give the information about the spirit soul that is already described in the Bhagavad-gītā. Rather, He begins from the point where Kṛṣṇa ended His instruction. It is accepted by great devotees that Lord Caitanya is Kṛṣṇa Himself, and, as such, He begins His instruction to Sanātana from the point where He ended His instructions to Arjuna in the Gītā.
“Your constitutional position is that you are pure living soul,” the Lord told Sanātana. “Your material body is not your real self, nor is your mind your real identity, nor your intelligence, nor your false ego. Your identity is that of an eternal servitor of the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa. Your position is that you are transcendental. The superior energy of Kṛṣṇa is spiritual in constitution, and the inferior, external energy is material. Since you are between the material energy and the spiritual energy, your position is marginal. Belonging to the marginal potency of Kṛṣṇa, you are simultaneously one with and different from Him. Because you are spirit, you are not different from Kṛṣṇa, but because you are only a minute particle of Kṛṣṇa, you are different from Him.”
This simultaneous oneness and difference always exists in the relationship between the living entities and the Supreme Lord. From the fact that the living entities are always in the marginal position, this conception of “simultaneously one and different” can be understood. The living entity is just like a molecular particle of sunshine, whereas Kṛṣṇa is like the blazing sun itself. Lord Caitanya also compared the living entities to sparks in a fire and the Supreme Lord to the blazing fire itself. In this connection the Lord cited a verse from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.22.53):
- eka-deśa-sthitasyāgner jyotsnā vistāriṇī yathā
- parasya brahmaṇaḥ śaktis tathedam akhilaṁ jagat
“Everything manifested within this cosmic world is but the energy of the Supreme Lord. As fire situated in one place spreads its illumination and heat all around, so the Lord, although situated in one place in the spiritual world, manifests His different energies everywhere. Indeed, the whole cosmic creation is but various manifestations of His energy.”
Lord Caitanya continued citing the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.7.61): “The Supreme Lord’s original energy is transcendental and spiritual, and the living entities are part and parcel of that energy. There is a third energy, however, called the material energy, which is covered by the cloud of ignorance.” This energy, which is material nature, is divided into three modes, or guṇas (goodness, passion and ignorance). Lord Caitanya then quoted another verse from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.3.2) to the effect that all inconceivable energies reside in the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that the whole cosmic manifestation acts due to those energies.
The Lord also said that the living entity is known as the kṣetra-jña, or “the knower of the field of activities.” This is confirmed in the Thirteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, where Kṛṣṇa describes the body as the field of activities and the living entity as the kṣetra-jña, the knower of that field. Although the living entity is constitutionally conversant with the spiritual energy, or has the potency to understand it, he is covered by the material energy and consequently believes himself to be the body. This false identification is called “false ego.” Deluded by the false ego, the bewildered living entity in material existence passes through different bodies and suffers various kinds of miseries. Knowledge of the living entity’s true position is possessed to different extents by different types of living entities.
In other words, it is to be understood that the living entity is part and parcel of the spiritual energy of the Supreme Lord. Because the material energy is inferior, man has the ability to get free from the covering of this material energy and utilize the spiritual energy. It is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā that in the conditioned state the superior energy (the living entity) is covered by the inferior energy. Due to this covering, the living entity is subjected to the material miseries, which he suffers in proportion to how much he is covered. Those who are a little enlightened suffer less, but on the whole everyone is subjected to material miseries due to being covered by the material energy.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu also quoted from the Seventh Chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, in which it is stated that earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego all combine to form the inferior energy of the Supreme Lord. But the superior energy is the real identity of the living being, and it is because of that energy that the whole material world functions. The cosmic manifestation, which is made of the material elements, has no power to act unless it is moved by the superior energy, the living entity. The conditioned life of the living entity is due to forgetfulness of his relationship with the Supreme Lord in the superior energy. When that relationship is forgotten, conditioned life is the result. Only when a man revives his real identity as the eternal servitor of the Lord does he become liberated.