Our Original Position

Our Original Position

by Suhotra Swami

This is a technical look, from the Gaudiya-Vaishnava perspective, at a complicated philosophical question: Were we with God before we came to the material world?

This philosophical question is carefully analyzed according to shruti, smriti, and the Vaishnava acharyas’ translations of key words in Sanskrit texts. Evidence from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Brahma-vaivarta Purana and other books are examined, as well as discussions with Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhaktivinoda Thakura and other recent acharyas.

Our Original Position, Softbound

Softbound Edition

  • Softbound; 275 pages; 12.7 x 19.1 (centimeters); 5 x 7.5 (inches)
  • no index
  • Publisher: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust; First issue: 1996
  • ISBN: 0-000000-000-0
  • Suggested Audience: Advanced
Table of Contents
Preface
Section One: The Siddhanta
Chapter 1: The Original State of the Jiva
Chapter 2: “Anadi” in Leaves Quotes
Chapter 3: The Word “Anadi” in Various Shastras
Chapter 4: Expressions of Time in Srimad-Bhagavatam
Chapter 5: The Nitya-baddha/ Nitya-mukta Soul
Chapter 6: The Word “Anadi” in Srimad-Bhagavatam
Chapter 7: Positive Evidence from Srimad-Bhagavatam
Chapter 8: Brahma-vaivarta Purana
Chapter 9: Evidence from Recent Acharyas
Chapter 10: The Meaning of “Eternally Conditioned”
Chapter 11: The Boundaries of Interpretation Prabhupada’s Books, Lectures, Letters

Section Two
Chapter 12: The Deviation of Kala Krishnadasa
Chapter 13: A Letter
Chapter 14: Letters from Srila Prabhupada
Chapter 15: Excerpts from Lectures and Conversations
Chapter 16: Jaiva-dharma Quotes
Chapter 17: Further Quotations from Bhaktivinoda Thakura
Chapter 18: Some Remarks on Jaiva-dharma

hapter 19: Why Did I Come to This Material World?

Excerpts

The Original State of the Jiva

In their book, In Vaikuntha Not Even the Leaves Fall, Satya Narayana dasa and Kundali dasa (hereafter, the authors) maintain that although Srila Prabhupada often taught that conditioned souls have fallen from the personal association and service of the Lord, he also wrote in his books that no one falls down from Vaikuntha. The authors argue that this apparent conflict can only be resolved by recourse to shastra and the previous acharyas. These sources, they claim, show unambiguously that the conditioned state of the jivas is literally beginningless, or anadi, and that souls do not fall down from Vaikuntha. The authors further insist that Srila Prabhupada’s teaching that some souls do fall from Vaikuntha was merely a preaching strategy. They assert that Srila Prabhupada generally spoke this false doctrine in his private communications, such as letters and conversations, but in his books he speaks the siddhanta: that no one falls from Vaikuntha.

We propose to show in this book:

1. The Sanskrit word anadi, “beginningless,”* like many Sanskrit words, displays a richness of meaning when applied in different ways. When anadi is applied to the material bondage of the soul, its meaning is different than when, for instance, it is applied to the soul itself.

2. Previous acharyas and such shastras as Srimad-Bhagavatam provide ample evidence that the jivas fall into the conditioned state, which thus begins at a certain time.

The Word “Anadi” in the Authors’ Book

On page 75 of their book, the authors offer a chart of four key Sanskrit terms with definitions:

nitya—no beginning, no end

anitya—beginning, end

anadi—no beginning, end

ananta—beginning, no end.

The authors insist that such learned acharyas as Srila Jiva Goswami use these terms in a precise and literal sense. Therefore, since the acharyas refer to the anadi bondage of the soul, we must conclude that there is no beginning to the soul’s material existence. Hence it is impossible that the soul was once with Lord Krishna, fell down and thus began material life.

And yet, whenever the shastras state that the soul’s bondage is anadi, Srila Prabhupada almost invariably declared that the term anadi indicates that the soul is bound or conditioned “since time immemorial,” literally “since a time no longer in memory.”

We shall now review the use of the word anadi in Vedic scriptures, starting with shruti, proceeding to smriti and the commentaries of acharyas.

It is clear to all parties that a follower of Srila Prabhupada is not inclined to reject the literal meaning of his teachings. The authors note, “In his Bhaktivedanta purports, he answered the question about falldown from the spiritual sky in clear, unambiguous language.” (Leaves, p. 129) But a follower of Srila Prabhupada likewise is not inclined to accept a theory that Srila Prabhupada consciously misinformed his followers about an important aspect of Vaishnava philosophy. The authors acknowledge that sentiment (“We assume that Prabhupada gave us the ultimate answer to all our direct questions,” p. 129). But their conclusion is,“When you compare his answer to us on the jiva bondage issue with the answer of the shastra, his statements in his purports and those of our previous acharyas, it is obvious that he did not give us the ultimate answer even to the direct question.” (p. 129) This is a bold assertation. To test it, we shall review the word anadi in the Vedic scriptures.

Mandukya Upanishad

The authors first attempt to give evidence from shruti, for they argue at length that in the Vedic tradition, all interpretations of the acharyas or of smriti must conform to shruti. They state:

The shruti confirms that the jiva’s bondage is caused by beginningless maya (Mandukya Upanishad 1.16)*:

anadi-mayaya supto yada jivah prabudhyate

ajam anidram asvapnam advaitam budhyate tada

[When the jiva, sleeping by (the influence of) beginningless maya, awakens, then he realizes the unborn, sleepless, dreamless nonduality.]*

Someone may argue that it is maya—used here in the sense of the external energy—that is anadi, and not the bondage of the jiva. But that is not the intention of this verse. The verse is not describing maya-shakti; it is explaining the conditioning of the jiva and its characteristics at the liberated stage.*

There are three problems with the authors’ interpretation of this text:

1. The authors have invented a stopgap rule of interpretation for this verse. It is: “In a verse describing the jiva’s conditioned state, a reference to maya shall be understood as indicating the individual illusion of the soul and not the Lord’s personified external energy.” No such rule is given by the acharyas or the shastra.

A prominent example from the Bhagavatam (among dozen of such examples) demonstrates that this new rule of scriptural interpretation cannot pass the test of shastric reference. After hearing from his guru, Narada, Vyasadeva saw the Lord and His illusory energy, as described in these verses (Bhag. 1.7.4–5)*:

“Thus he [Vyasadeva] fixed his mind, perfectly engaging it in devotional service [bhakti-yoga] without any tinge of materialism, and thus he saw the Absolute Personality of Godhead along with His external energy, which was under full control. Due to this external energy, the living entity, although transcendental to the three modes of material nature, thinks of himself as a material product and thus undergoes the reactions of material miseries.”

Verse 1.7.5 of the Bhagavatam speaks clearly and directly about the conditioned jiva, yet the word yaya, “by which [illusory energy],” refers to the Lord’s external potency, maya.

2. The authors commit a logical mistake in their interpretation of the so-called shruti text under discussion:

Moreover, by logic, the effect of anadi objects is also anadi. So if maya is anadi, as the verse says, then its effect, “ the sleep of the jiva,” is also anadi.*

Although logic does dictate that an anadi cause has an anadi effect, logic does not tell us that all these effects must be experienced by the same subject. For example, the sun has been shining on India for millions of years, but this does not mean that a particular Indian has enjoyed that sunshine for millions of years.

3. The third mistake is perhaps the most serious: the above quote is not actually from the Mandukya Upanishad, which has only twelve verses. The so-called verse 1.16 is actually from a famous commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad by Gaudapada, the parama-guru of Sankaracharya. Indeed, one may note the impersonal flavor of the text:

“When the jiva, sleeping by [the influence of] beginningless maya, awakens, then he realizes the unborn, sleepless, dreamless nonduality.”

CHAPTER TWO

Anadi” in Leaves Quotes

Vedanta-sutra

The authors next cite a text of the Vedanta-sutra as evidence for their case:

Vedanta-sutra (2.1.35)… states that the karma of the living entity is beginningless, na karmavibhagad iti cen nanadi tvat. If someone says that the theory of karma cannot explain the inequality seen in the world, arguing that everyone had the same karma at the beginning of creation, this is not true because karma is beginningless.*

The English translation of the sutra quoted above is much larger than the Sanskrit. This is because the authors include in their translation what they consider to be the purport of the acharyas. And yet, if we are to proceed along lines consistent with the authors’ own statements, we must examine their interpretative translation in terms of both the literal sense of the sutra and the commentaries of the acharyas. Since the Vedanta-sutras are, by definition, extremely terse expressions of the highest truth, we must also grasp the context of each sutra. In general, the meaning of sutras depends greatly on context, as we can see with other sutras, such as those of Panini.

Considering all of the above, we shall first examine the context of Vedanta-sutra 2.1.35, then give a literal definition of Vs. 2.1.35 and then study the commentaries of two great Vaishnava acharyas.

Sutra 2.1.35 is the thirty-fifth sutra in the first pada, or subdivision, of the second adhyaya, or main division, of Vedanta. This first pada of the second adhyaya, according to both Ramanujacharya and Baladeva Vidyabhushana, refutes various philosophical attempts to deny that Brahman, the Absolute, is the creator of the world. It also refutes suggestions that if He were the creator, the Lord would be responsible for and even subject to the defects of this world, since a cause is somehow present in its effects.

In the course of this debate and just before 2.1.35, the Vedanta argues at 2.1.34:

vaishamya-naighrinye na sapekshatvat tatha hi darshayati. (Vs. 2.1.34)*

“Not inequality and cruelty, because of having consideration. Thus indeed it demonstrates.”

Both acharyas (Ramanuja and Baladeva) state that this sutra declares that one cannot criticize or argue against God by saying that, as the creator of the world, He is responsible for its suffering and therefore He must be guilty of inequality and cruelty. The Lord is not guilty of such base qualities because, as the Upanishads surely demonstrate, the Lord rewards and punishes the living beings with due consideration of their good and evil deeds.

Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s

Commentary on Vedanta-sutra 2.1.34

We will translate here Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s commentary on this sutra (2.1.34). The commentary consists of a typical dialogue between an objector and Baladeva himself*:

Objector: In Brahman, in the creator there is the fault of unfairness and cruelty.

Baladeva: No.

Objector: How so?

Baladeva: Because He has consideration, because the Creator considers activity. The words tatha hi [in this sutra] indicate the evidence:

“ ‘He alone causes him to perform sadhu-karma, for He desires to lead him up from the worlds of Yama. He alone causes him to perform asadhu-karma, and he is led down to Yama.’ (Brihad-aranyaka-shrutih)

“In the midst of showing the Lord to be the instrumental cause* of kshetra-jnas’ acquiring the state of gods, etc., [this shruti verse] refers to karma, ’activity.’ That is the meaning.”

As we see in Baladeva’s commentary, and as the sutra itself makes clear, the main defense against the charge of divine partiality and cruelty is that the Lord considers the activity of the living beings and thus grants them what they deserve. The word karma in Baladeva’s commentary has a material or a spiritual sense, as we shall demonstrate later. The spiritual sense of the word karma can be seen in the Bhagavad-gita, in which Lord Krishna calls His own transcendental activity karma:

“One who understands My divine birth and activity…”*

The next Vedanta-sutra, 2.1.35, the one cited by the authors, uses a form of the word anadi: na karmavibhagad iti cen nanaditvat (Vs. 2.1.35)*

“Not activity. Because of nondistinction. If thus (one objects, we reply:) ’No, because of beginninglessness.’ ”

The authors translate the above sutra as follows:

If someone says that the theory of karma cannot explain the inequality seen in the world, arguing that everyone had the same karma at the beginning of creation, this is not true because karma is beginningless.*

However, as shown in the literal translation, this sutra does not state, as the authors claim, “because karma is beginningless.” We shall continue to study Baladeva’s commentary on this section, in order to grasp what it is that must be beginningless in order to establish the Lord’s impartiality.

Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s

Commentary on Vedanta-sutra 2.1.35*

Objector: But from [a consideration of the jiva’s] action, there would be no refutation of [the Lord’s fault of] inequality, etc.

Baladeva: How so?

Objector: From the nondistinction of action [before this creation]. Because in verses like “sad eva saumya idam…”* [it is said that] before the creation there is no perception of an entity distinct from Brahman, who would perform activity (karma).*

Baladeva: If this [argument is made, the answer is] no.

Objector: How so?

Baladeva: Because for activity (karma), for living entities (kshetra-jnas) and for Brahman there is acceptance of beginninglessness. There is no fault because, according to each previous action, there is the occurrence of a subsequent action. And [for this we have the evidence of] smriti:

“’Vishnu causes [the soul] to perform pious and sinful actions according to [the soul’s] previous action. And because of the beginninglessness of action, there is no contradiction at all.’*

“However [if someone objects that] by action’s condition of being anadi there will be no stable position* [since there will be an infinite regress of statements to explain the jiva’s situation, then we say that] there is no fault because it is based on evidence. Nor is it the case that the Lord lacks independence because He gives consideration to action. From smriti, by verses such as dravyam karma ca kalash ca, [it is seen that] the existence of action, etc., is dependent on the Lord.

“Nor should the [objection of] ‘morning in the kuti by the ghat’ be stated here.*

“According to the beginningless jiva’s nature, [the Lord] causes him to perform activity. Although able to make [the jiva’s] nature otherwise, the Lord does not make anyone’s [nature different].

“[The accusation of] inequality, etc., in Brahman is refuted.

“That [inequality] in the form of taking the devotee’s side is now [however] accepted. Fully protecting the devotee and checking his material desires [are a kind of] inequality in the Supreme. Or [it is] not, for [inequality] would not exist from the Lord’s consideration of activity, even from His protecting the devotees from sense gratification, etc. This follows logically from the preceding principle [that the Lord fairly reciprocates with the jiva].”

It is significant that Baladeva here gives the Lord’s dealings with His devotees as an example of considering the actions (karma) of the living beings. Thus in Baladeva’s argument, the word karma seems to be used in the literal sense of “action.” One may argue that the Lord’s activities of protecting the devotees apply to devotees in the material world and not in the spiritual world. But the Lord protects His pure devotees when they descend to the material world from the spiritual world. And even in the spiritual world, we cannot deny that the Lord protects His devotees.

In his commentary on the next sutra, Baladeva continues to claim that the Lord’s consideration of the jiva’s actions includes consideration of devotional service. Indeed, he emphasizes the point. Below we give sutra 2.1.36, a literal translation, and finally, Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s commentary.

upapadyate cabhyupalabhyate ca (Vs. 2.1.36)*

“It is reasonable, and it is observed also.”

Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s

Commentary on Vedanta-sutra 2.1.36*

“It is simply inequality when this Lord, who is affectionate to His devotees, takes their side. [But] that is reasonable and it is valid. [For example, it holds] from His protecting the devotee, because of the Lord’s consideration of bhakti, which is the function of the energy of the [soul’s] own nature (svarupa). This is not a contradiction of the speaker’s claim that the Lord is free of the fault [of partiality], because partiality in that form is being praised as a good quality.

“Even thus the shruti has stated, ‘This decoration of good qualities…’ without which [quality of partiality to His loving devotees], all [other] qualities, not appealing to the people, would not be motivators.

“This is observed also in the shrutis:

“ ‘By he alone whom the Lord chooses, the Lord is to be obtained. To him this Soul reveals His own body.’* [Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.3]

“And in other such shrutis. [And in the Bhagavad-gita]:

“ ‘I am exceedingly dear to the jnani, and he is dear to Me.’

“ ‘I am equal to all beings. I have neither hatred nor special favor. But those who worship Me with devotion are in Me and I am also in them.’

“ ‘Even if one of very bad behavior worships Me with no other object [of devotion], he is to be considered saintly, for he is rightly situated.’

“ ‘Quickly he becomes a righteous soul and attains lasting peace. Kaunteya, declare that My devotee does not perish!’

“And thus in such smritis.

In the verses Baladeva Vidyabhushana has quoted from shruti and smriti,and in his own statements, it is eminently clear that he considers bhakti, devotional service to the Lord, to be a prime example of the type of karma, action, with which the Lord reciprocates. Thus the Lord’s so-called partiality toward His devotees is actually His fair reciprocation with their own devotion for Him. The Lord reciprocates with every act of the living entity, material or spiritual, not just materially pious and impious actions. It is this consideration of the jiva’s actions and the consequential reciprocation by the Lord that is anadi, or beginningless (and endless, as well). And it is also clear that Baladeva is not speaking merely of mixed devotional service performed on the conditional or even mundane platform, for he says in his commentary on this verse:

“The Lord considers the devotion, which exists as the function of the energy of the constitutional position (svarupa) of the soul.”*

We should also keep in mind that the topic here is the nature of the Lord and not the origin of the conditioned state of the living entity. Is the Lord fair or unfair in His dealings with the living beings? We learn that He is fair, because of His beginningless consideration of the actions (spiritual or material) of the living entities. This clear focus on the character of the Lord continues in Baladeva’s commentary on the final sutra of this section (2.1) of the Vedanta-sutra, as we shall now demonstrate.

sarva-dharmopapattesh ca (Vs. 2.1.37)*

“And because of the occurrence of all characteristics.”

Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s

Commentary on Vedanta-sutra 2.1.37*

“Because all contradictory and noncontradictory characteristics are valid and established in the Lord of all, whose constitutional form is inconceivable, even His taking His devotee’s side is a good quality and is regarded as good by those with good intelligence.

“For example, the Lord possesses mutually contradictory qualities—such as being constituted of knowledge and possessing knowledge, and being a dark blue color [although He has no material form]—and thus being equal, yet taking His devotee as very dear [is also mutually contradictory]. And the Supreme [also] possesses nonconflicting qualities, such as forgiveness, straightforwardness, etc.

“And there is evidence of smriti:

“ ‘From the combination of His opulences, the term Bhagavan is said to entail contradictory meanings. Nonetheless, in no way is it to be taken that there are faults in the Supreme, although contradictory good qualities are indeed to be accepted in all respects.’ (Kurma Purana)

“So even though the Lord is thus equal, He is the well-wisher of His devotees. This is established.”

Thus it is crystal clear that Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana seeks to contrast not merely mundane piety and impiety, but rather devotional service and nondevotional activity. This apparent disparity between the Lord’s dealings with His devotees and nondevotees is based on the Lord’s beginningless, fair and reciprocal consideration of the activities of devotees and nondevotees.

There is another relevant sutra (Vs. 4.4.1), in which Ramanujacharya vigorously argues that the spiritual body of the soul has always existed and that upon liberation, one attains that which has always existed.

sampadyavir-bhavah svena shabdat*

“Attaining, the appearance with one’s own, from sound.”

In Our Original Position, writers representing the Governing Body Commission of ISKCON present for the ISKCON GBC Press the siddhanta, or essential conclusions of the Vedic literature and the Vaishnava acharyas, on the fall of the spirit soul from the spiritual world to the material world. This book shows that Srila Prabhupada is the true follower of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his understanding and teaching of this siddhanta.

Language(s): 
English